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OBJECTS IN ACTION: Dogs and humans interpret what they see differently

Humans are very object oriented, we have a particular obsession with naming objects. Dogs appear to be less concerned with who or what they are seeing and more concerned with the action itself.

STANLEY COREN: For human beings, vision is the most important sensory system. Therefore our brains do more elaborate processing of visual information than for any other sensory modality. This is illustrated by the fact that when we understand something we typically say “I see what you mean”, even if the information comes from something which was said and thus the information was received through our ears.

Dogs rely more on their sense of smell than on their vision. Their visual system is more limited than ours in terms of color processing and ability to see details. Since vision is less important to canines it makes sense to hypothesize that the brains of dogs might process aspects of their visual environment in a way that is fundamentally different than humans.

A new set of data allows us to actually compare how humans and dogs perceive their world. This new information comes from a research project led by Erin Phillips of Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia. The project was inspired by recent work looking at how the human brain analyzes visual information. It depends upon recent advances in the use of fMRI brain scans and also the development of new computer analytic systems…

Having the fMRI data is not enough. Until recently the analytic tools that allow us to understand how the brain is actually processing the incoming images were not available. This form of analysis requires the use of artificial neural networks, which are computer programs that operate in a manner inspired by physiological neural networks in the brain…

The task of the neural net was to see if it could learn to accurately classify what was being seen based on the fMRI data. Ultimately the program was able to map the brain scans from the humans with 99% accuracy for both actions and objects. For the dogs, the effects were a little bit more complex. To begin with, the neural net had no success at all for object recognition.

However, the program did a lot better for actions, mapping visual inputs to brain activity within an accuracy range between 75% and 88%. The inability of the neural network program to accurately identify objects based on the fMRI data from dogs suggests that this aspect of visual perception was less systematic and of lower priority for processing in the canine brain…

These results suggest major differences in how the brains of humans and dogs work when analyzing the visual world. “We humans are very object oriented,” Berns says. “There are 10 times as many nouns as there are verbs in the English language because we have a particular obsession with naming objects. Dogs appear to be less concerned with who or what they are seeing and more concerned with the action itself.”

We already knew, from a variety of studies, that dogs are more sensitive to movement than human beings, and that dogs even have a slightly higher density of visual receptors in the eye designed to detect motion… The important take-home message is that dogs and humans are not analyzing their visual environment in the same way. Human visual perception is concerned with “who” and “what” as well as monitoring which activities are unfolding, while dogs are much more focused on ongoing actions. SOURCE…


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