Dog news: Collies notice computer animations violate Newton’s laws of physics

Dogs seem to understand basic object behavior and watch for longer if animated balls violate expectations while rolling for no obvious reason.


22 December 2021

A dog participating in the study

Rooobert Bayer

When animated 3D balls on a computer screen defy physical laws, dogs act in a way that suggests they feel like their eyes are fooling them.

Companion dogs watch longer and their pupils widen if the virtual balls begin to roll on their own rather than being set in motion by colliding with another ball. This suggests the animals are surprised the bullets didn’t move as they expected, says Christoph volter at the University of Veterinary Medicine in Vienna.

“This is the starting point for learning,” says Völter. “You have expectations about the environment – patterns in your environment that relate to physics – and then something doesn’t fit. And now you pay attention. And now you’re trying to see what’s going on.

Human infants, starting around 6 months old, and chimpanzees look longer during this type of “violation of expectation” test for their physical environment, he says.

Studies in humans have also shown that pupils dilate more in response to increased mental strain, such as calculating, or stronger emotions such as arousal or surprise – known as a psychosensory response. the pupil. And Previous search in dogs suggested that they dilate their pupils more when looking at angry human faces than happy human faces.

V̦lter and his colleague Ludwig Huber, also at the University of Veterinary Medicine, decided to see how dogs saw animated rolling balls that did not always follow the basic laws of contact physics. They trained 14 adult companion dogs Рmostly border collies, Labrador retrievers and mixed breeds Рto place their heads on a chin bar in front of a computer screen and eye-tracking equipment. Then, they showed the animals short videos, in random order, of colorful 3D balls in motion.

In one video, a ball rolls to a second stationary ball, then collides with it. The first ball stops and the second begins to move, as described in Newton’s laws of motion. In another video, however, the first ball rolls towards the second ball, but suddenly stops before hitting it. And then the second ball suddenly begins to roll on its own – contrary to basic physical principles.

Like human infants and chimpanzees, dogs fixed their eyes longer on balls that weren’t moving in a logical fashion, Völter says. However, their students’ reaction was even more convincing: they consistently saw the “bad” scenarios with larger students, suggesting it was contrary to their expectations.

This doesn’t mean that dogs necessarily understand physics, with its complex calculations, explains Völter. But it does suggest that dogs have an implicit understanding of their physical surroundings.

“It’s sort of [an] intuitive understanding of expectations, ”says Völter. “But that’s also the case for humans, right? The 7 month old infant has expectations of the environment and detects whether these expectations are being violated. I think they build on those expectations and gain a richer understanding of their environment based on those expectations. “

How dogs use this unexpected information has yet to be studied, says Völter.

Journal reference: Biology letters, DOI: 10.1098 / rsbl.2021.0465

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