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The old saying goes that 'a dog is a man's best friend', but could they actually be man's superior when it comes to rationality - in some ways, at least?

In an on-stage experiment Laurie Santos, a cognitive psychologist at Yale University, showed the audience a box with a cylindrical handle on its side at the 2018 Liberty Science Centre Genius Gala.

To open the box she shook the handle a few times and then opened the top. She performed this process several times to show how the box should be opened.

At least that's how a human would presume how the box should be opened. After all, that's what we've been taught so why would we think otherwise?

However, rather than ask a member of the audience to come on stage and take part in the experiment, Santos invited a dog.

Santos showed the dog how she had opened the box and, if they canine could successfully repeat the method, it would be rewarded with a treat.

When it came to the dogs turn it did something completely different. Rather than testing the handle it instead sniffed around the box and popped the top open with its nose to retrieve the treat.

So, it turns out that the handle had nothing to do with how one should open a box and the dog proved that by trusting its instincts.

Santos is quoted by Live Science as saying:

[Dogs are] really good at learning from us, but they might, in funny ways, be better at learning from us than we are from ourselves.

[Dogs are] less irrational in following our behaviour than humans are.

In terms of humans, Santos believes that we as a species are often victims of trying to imitate something exactly as we have seen it.

She added:

Sometimes we imitate too much; we are so prone to trust others that we kind of copy the things we see them doing, even when those things other people are doing might not be so smart.

Sanchez is part of the Canine and Primate Laboratory at Yale and along with her team, they are attempting to explore what makes the human mind so original by studying the actions of animals.

Dogs are a key part of their research as they are the animals that live most closely with humans, therefore, their actions will indicate whether they are inclined to respond to our cues and training.

We have developed this cognition that can allow us to do these amazing things.

But we're not perfect; when you really look at our behaviour, we have these ingrained tendencies that might be leading us astray all the time — I think that can be humbling.

Of course, this is only one experiment but it should provide food for thought next time we are posed with a problem or question a dogs decision making.

HT Live Science

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