Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Wolves Can Follow a Human's Gaze - ScienceNOW

Wolves Can Follow a Human's Gaze - ScienceNOW

Of the species that have passed the gazing-in-the-distance test, only apes, rooks, ravens—and now wolves—have nailed this far more difficult exam. "It really surprised us that wolves would follow our gaze [around a barrier], because it's always been thought that wolves don't pay attention to humans, that they don't see us as social partners," says Range.

The two types of gaze-following abilities seem to require different mental skills, she adds. It may be that the talent for following another's gaze while looking in the distance is innate, almost a "reflexive reaction," she says. But the ability to understand that your social pal is looking at something behind a barrier may develop only in species that are either highly cooperative or highly competitive—something that needs further testing, Range adds.

"It's a great study and the first, I think, that really is really biologically relevant to wolves," meaning that it tests their natural propensities, says Bekoff. "It's very important" to do studies like these "on socialized wolves," adds Adam Miklosi, a cognitive ethologist at Eötvös Loránd University in Budapest. "We can then put our knowledge" about dogs into a "wider evolutionary perspective" and ultimately arrive at a better understanding of how domestication turned the wolf into a dog.

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