CLOSE
iStock
iStock

Citizen Science Goes to the Dogs

iStock
iStock

Dog behavioral and cognition studies, like their human counterparts, are often lacking in one thing: numbers. It’s difficult to get as many dogs and owners into the lab as necessary to get really significant results. But what if dog owners could test their pets at home and submit the results to researchers? 

According to a new study in the journal PLOS ONE, this type of citizen science could help give dog research a much-needed boost. Experts from Duke University and a company called Canines, Inc. compared data submitted by regular pet owners who perform tests with their dogs to traditional lab-based experiments, and found that the results were more or less equal. 

The study focused on more than 500 citizen scientists who signed up for Dognition.com. Volunteers completed questionnaires about their dogs and received instructions for how to perform 10 different cognition tests with their canine friends. They could submit their data on the web from any computer, tablet, or smartphone. Here’s one test they used:

The results submitted replicated the findings of several conventional lab studies on dog cognition, and there was no evidence that the volunteers manipulated the results. This indicates that citizen science initiatives could be a boon for dog studies. After all, it’s much easier to get a large, diverse sample of dogs and their owners by recruiting volunteers on the Internet and letting them perform tests at home. It's also possible that performing the experiments in an environment that’s comfortable for the dogs (the home) provides a more accurate picture of their capabilities than an unfamiliar place like a university cognition lab. 

More than 17,000 dog owners from around the world have signed up to share data with the researchers, compared with the network of 1,000 dog owners who Duke University asks to bring pets into the lab for testing. "They're just games,” as Duke dog researcher Brian Hare, who developed the website, explains of the tests in a press release. “The owners love playing them and the dogs love playing them.” Now go play with your dog for science. 

nextArticle.image_alt|e
iStock
arrow
Animals
Pigeons Are Secretly Brilliant Birds That Understand Space and Time, Study Finds
iStock
iStock

Of all the birds in the world, the pigeon draws the most ire. Despite their reputation as brainless “rats with wings,” though, they’re actually pretty brilliant (and beautiful) animals. A new study adds more evidence that the family of birds known as pigeons are some of the smartest birds around, as Quartz alerts us.

In addition to being able to distinguish English vocabulary from nonsense words, spot cancer, and tell a Monet from a Picasso, pigeons can understand abstract concepts like space and time, according to the new study published in Current Biology. Their brains just do it in a slightly different way than humans’ do.

Researchers at the University of Iowa set up an experiment where they showed pigeons a computer screen featuring a static horizontal line. The birds were supposed to evaluate the length of the line (either 6 centimeters or 24 centimeters) or the amount of time they saw it (either 2 or 8 seconds). The birds perceived "the longer lines to have longer duration, and lines longer in duration to also be longer in length," according to a press release. This suggests that the concepts are processed in the same region of the brain—as they are in the brains of humans and other primates.

But that abstract thinking doesn’t occur in the same way in bird brains as it does in ours. In humans, perceiving space and time is linked to a region of the brain called the parietal cortex, which the pigeon brains lack entirely. So their brains have to have some other way of processing the concepts.

The study didn’t determine how, exactly, pigeons achieve this cognitive feat, but it’s clear that some other aspect of the central nervous system must be controlling it. That also opens up the possibility that other non-mammal animals can perceive space and time, too, expanding how we think of other animals’ cognitive capabilities.

[h/t Quartz]

nextArticle.image_alt|e
iStock
arrow
Animals
The Queen's Racing Pigeons Are in Danger, Due to an Increase in Peregrine Falcons
iStock
iStock

Queen Elizabeth is famous for her love of corgis and horses, but her pet pigeons don't get as much press. The monarch owns nearly 200 racing pigeons, which she houses in a luxury loft at her country estate, Sandringham House, in Norfolk, England. But thanks to a recent boom in the region’s peregrine falcon population, the Queen’s swift birds may no longer be able to safely soar around the countryside, according to The Telegraph.

Once endangered, recent conservation efforts have boosted the peregrine falcon’s numbers. In certain parts of England, like Norfolk and the city of Salisbury in Wiltshire, the creatures can even find shelter inside boxes installed at local churches and cathedrals, which are designed to protect potential eggs.

There’s just one problem: Peregrine falcons are birds of prey, and local pigeon racers claim these nesting nooks are located along racing routes. Due to this unfortunate coincidence, some pigeons are failing to return to their owners.

Pigeon racing enthusiasts are upset, but Richard Salt of Salisbury Cathedral says it's simply a case of nature taking its course. "It's all just part of the natural process,” Salt told The Telegraph. "The peregrines came here on their own account—we didn't put a sign out saying 'room for peregrines to let.' Obviously we feel quite sorry for the pigeons, but the peregrines would be there anyway."

In the meantime, the Queen might want to keep a close eye on her birds (or hire someone who will), or consider taking advantage of Sandringham House's vast open spaces for a little indoor fly-time.

[h/t The Telegraph]

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios