Study: Dogs Understand Numbers like How Humans Do

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A recent study revealed that dogs can process numbers the same way humans do. Previous studies have shown that animals use the approximate number system (ANS) to quickly estimate the number of things present in a particular situation. However, these studies only observed trained animals, which cast doubt on the idea of animals’ numerical skills being innate. Because of this, psychologists from Emory University observed 11 dogs of varying breeds in a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanner. The dogs had to look at a screen that displayed dots of different sizes and quantities. As the dots flashed, the psychologists analyzed the dogs’ brain activity. Results showed that majority of the dogs had more active brains when the dots increased or decreased in number, compared to when the number of dots remained constant. The psychologists found that a particular area of the dogs’ brains, called the parietotemporal [puh-RAHY-i-toh TEM-per-uh l] cortex, responded to the differences in quantity. The parietotemporal cortex resembles an area of the human brain called the parietal cortex, a part that helps humans process numbers quickly. This similarity suggests that the ability to understand numerical information may be inherently present in different animals and that it may have been rooted in evolution. Krista Macpherson, a canine researcher, said the study’s findings will help scientists understand dog cognition better. She added that the study can be helpful for dog trainers since it suggests that animals may focus more on the actual number of items, such as dog treats, presented. What comes next, according to one of the study’s researchers, is understanding how the animals’ basic numerical ability can evolve into more complex mathematical skills.

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