Monday, 12 October 2015

Give a dog a bone....and they will find it like we do

Research that looks into neurophysiology, behaviour AND dogs…..ooooo, right up my street!

I always knew dogs were really really smart and this was confirmed by a recent study at the University of Sheffield (https://www.sheffield.ac.uk/news/nr/navigating-way-through-computer-like-dog-with-bone-1.515267). The research team found that when humans navigate through computer files, the same brain structures are used as when a dog searches for their bone.

Apparently, it seems most of us search for stuff on our computers by going through folders or other pathways. (Sounds about right for me anyway!). There are two ways to search : hierarchical or query-based. Most people in the study moved through folders in a top down fashion until they reached the file they wanted rather than spending time composing a specific query-based search. This is despite advances in search technology.

So why did their sample prefer this long-winded method? They suggested that top-down navigation uses the same parts of the brain and neural processes that have evolved over millions of years for navigating in the physical world – looking for a path where we actually stored something physically.

To get technical, these parts are in the posterior part of the brain. And that is what links us to dogs. This is exactly how they use their brain to navigate instinctively to that part of the garden where they buried their bone so they can find it when they next want it.

I’m sure there will be some people who use the key word search. Ok, for you, to get even more technical, searching for a file using a key word activates a part of the frontal brain, called Broca’s area just in case you ever need that for a pub quiz. But for us ‘old fashioned’ types it is not all bad news. Apparently top-down searching makes less use of words, leaving your ‘language system available for other tasks’, the researchers said. Phew!

Interestingly, using the frontal part of the brain for searching is a function, so far, unique to humans. But watch this space. Other recent studies have shown how the brains of dogs are evolving in parallel with us as they have spent so many years working alongside humans. You may well come home one day and find your dog on Google! 

Sam Googling walks

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