The attribution of navigational- and goal-directed agency in dogs (Canis Familiaris) and human toddlers (Homo Sapiens)

TitleThe attribution of navigational- and goal-directed agency in dogs (Canis Familiaris) and human toddlers (Homo Sapiens)
Publication TypeJournal Article
AuthorsTauzin, T., A. Csík, K. Lovas, Gy. Gergely, and J. Topál
Journal titleJournal of Comparative Psychology

Both human infants and non-human primates can recognize unfamiliar entities as instrumental agents ascribing them goals and efficiency of goal-pursuit. This competence relies on movement cues indicating distal sensitivity to the environment and choice of efficient goal-approach. While dogs’ evolved sensitivity to social cues allow them to recognize humans as communicative agents, it remains unclear whether they have also evolved a basic concept of instrumental agency.
We employed a preferential object-choice procedure to test whether adult pet dogs and human toddlers can identify unfamiliar entities as agents based on different types of movement cues specifying different levels of agency. In the Navigational Agency condition, dogs preferentially chose an object that varied it’s pathway to avoid collision with obstacles over another object showing no evidence of distal sensitivity (regularly bumping into obstacles). However, in the Goal-Efficiency condition where neither objects collided with obstacles as they navigated towards a distal target, but only one of them exhibited efficient goal-approach as well, toddlers, but not dogs, showed a preference toward the efficient goal-directed agent.
These findings indicate that dogs possess a limited concept of environmentally sensitive ‘navigational agency’ that they attribute to self-propelled entities capable of modifying their movement to avoid colliding with obstacles. In contrast, dogs showed no evidence of attributing the higher-level concept of ‘goal-directed instrumental agency’ based on cues of efficient goal-pursuit. Toddlers, on the other hand, demonstrated clear sensitivity to cues of efficient variability of goal-approach as the basis for differentiating, attributing, and showing preference for goal-directed instrumental agency.