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Researchers Surprisingly Find Dogs Are Much Smarter Than We Think

Researchers Surprisingly Find Dogs Are Much Smarter Than We Think

We love our dogs. And research is showing that our dogs love us back and are much smarter than we often give them credit for.

A series of studies has shown that dogs are capable of understanding hundreds of words, can read human social and communicative actions, and even possess some reasoning ability. But perhaps most importantly of all, these studies show that dogs do in fact truly love us, and do not just view us as a big dog who provides them with food and water.

They can understand names

One question which dog owners have is whether dogs truly understand names. Does Fido actually understand that he is Fido or is he just responding when a certain sound is made?

Not only can dogs understand names, they can understand hundreds of names. A border collie named Chaser has shown how well dogs can remember them.

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Chaser’s owner, former psychologist John Pilley, has shown in a study that Chaser can recognize the names of 1,022 distinctive objects as well as more common words like “house” and “tree.” When Chaser was tasked to retrieve a specific toy, she was able to find the correct one 95 percent of the time. The researchers also noted that there appeared to be no upper limit on the number of names she could remember, as they stopped due to time constraints rather than Chaser’s inability to remember more.

Perhaps most surprisingly of all, Chaser has shown the ability to figure out names through inference. The dog was placed in a room with several familiar toys and one new toy. She was then told the new toy’s name without identifying the toy with the name and was then told to retrieve the toy.

Chaser was able to understand that since she knew the names of every toy there but one, that one toy had to be the unfamiliar name. The ability to reason through exclusion is something scientists have not seen in dogs before.

They may possess a sense of self

In addition to these tests, there is additional evidence that dogs may understand the concept of “I am I”. One common test which is used to determine whether an animal possesses a sense of self is to place it in front of a mirror. The goal is to see if the animal understands that it is looking at itself and not at another animal. Elephants, chimpanzees, and dolphins all appear to understand this, but dogs do not.

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However, researcher Marc Bekoff pointed out that unlike chimpanzees and humans, dogs depend more on their sense of smell rather than sight. Bekoff hypothesized that dogs may understand themselves by their scent instead of their appearance.

Bekoff thus conducted a test using his own dog’s urine. When his dog urinated on a patch of snow, Bekoff took the snow and deposited it by a place where other dogs had also urinated. He made sure to keep the transfer process a secret from his dog.

When his dog reached the spot, he seemed to recognize his own scene. He sniffed the snow path for a shorter period compared to the patches left by other dogs and left it alone. While Bekoff has stressed that this is not conclusive proof that dogs possess a sense of self, it is an indication.

They do love us

A sense of self and intelligence is all very fine, but people want to know if our dogs truly love us. That appears to be the case.

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A neuroscience analysis of a dog’s brain shows that when a dog sniffs a cloth soaked by their owner, there is a spike in activity in their caudate nucleus. This is a section of the brain which may be associated with emotional attachment.

This spike does not occur when the dog sniffs the scent of itself, an unfamiliar person, or another dog. This can serve as evidence that dogs are truly pleased to see their owners, just like an owner should be to see his dog.

They are our intelligent, loving comrades

No one is going to suggest that dogs will be playing poker anytime soon. Also, because of the language barrier, it is incredibly difficult for humans to understand what a dog is thinking when it takes part in these tests.

But while we may be limited in our ability to communicate with dogs, it is clear that some dogs possess the ability to understand human words and react to them. There is also evidence that they possess a sense of self and most important of all, care about us.

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As Anderson Cooper observed on 60 Minutes, scientists viewed dogs for decades as not worthy of serious study. It is now clear that this was an incorrect assumption, and it is time for scientists to pay attention to our closest companions, just like they do with chimpanzees and dolphins.

Featured photo credit: oneinchpunch via shutterstock.com

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Last Updated on October 23, 2018

Science Says Knitting Makes Humans Warmer And Happier, Mentally

Science Says Knitting Makes Humans Warmer And Happier, Mentally

My mother was a great knitter and produced some wonderful garments such as Aran sweaters which were extremely fashionable when I was young. She also knitted while my father drove, which caused great amusement. I often wondered why she did that but I think I know the answer now.

Knitting is good for your mental health, according to some research studies. The Washington Post mentions a 2013 survey of about 3,500 knitters who were asked how they felt after a knitting session. Over 80% of them said they definitely felt happier. It is not a totally female occupation as more and more men take it up to get the same benefits. Harry Styles (One Direction) enjoys knitting. So does Russell Crowe although he does it to help him with anger management!

The Neural Knitwork Project

In Australia, Neural Knitworks was started to encourage people to knit and also become aware of neuroscience and mental health issues. Knit-ins were organized but garments were not the only things created. The knitters produced handmade neurons (1,665 of them!) to make a giant brain. The 2015 project will make more neural knitted networks (neural knitworks) and they will be visible online. You can see some more examples of woolly neurons on the Neural Knitworks Facebook page.

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While people knitted, crocheted and crafted yarn, they listened to experts talking about mental health issues such as addiction, dementia, depression, and how neurons work.

The knitting and neural connection

The human brain has about 80 billion neurons. Learning new skills, social interaction, and physical activity all help to forge neural connections which keep the brain healthy and active. They are creating networks to control movement and make memories. The knitters learn that as they create the woollen neurons, their own neurons are forming new pathways in their brains. Their creations are mimicking the processes in their brains to a certain extent. At the same time, their brains are registering new and interesting information as they learn interesting facts about the brain and how it works. I love the knitworks and networks pun. What a brilliant idea!

More mental health benefits from knitting

Betsan Corkhill is a physiotherapist and has published some results of completed studies on her website, appropriately named Stitchlinks. She conducted some experiments herself and found that knitting was really helpful in reducing panic and anxiety attacks.

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“You are using up an awful lot of brain capacity to perform a coordinated series of movements. The more capacity you take up by being involved in a complex task, the less capacity you have for bad thoughts.”- Betsan Corkhill

Knitters feel happier and in a better mood

Ann Futterman-Collier, Well Being Lab at Northern Arizona University, is very interested in how textile therapy (sewing, knitting, weaving and lace-making) can play an important role in mood repair and in lifting depressive states.

She researched 60 women and divided them into three different groups to do some writing, meditating and work with textiles. She monitored their heartbeat, blood pressure and saliva production. The women in the textiles group had the best results when their mood was assessed afterwards. They were in a better mood and had managed to reduce their negative thoughts better than those in the writing and meditation groups.

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“People who were given the task to make something actually had less of an inflammatory response in the face of a ‘stressor’.” – Dr. Futterman Collier

The dopamine effect on our happiness

Our brains produce a chemical called dopamine. This helps us to feel happy, more motivated, and assists also with focus and concentration. We get a boost of dopamine after sex, food, exercise, sleep, and creative activities.

There are medications to increase dopamine but there are lots of ways we can do it naturally. Textile therapy and crafting are the easiest and cheapest. We can create something and then admire it. In addition, this allows for a little bit of praise and congratulations. Although this is likely not your goal, all these can boost our dopamine and we just feel happier and more fulfilled. These are essential in facing new challenges and coping with disappointment in life.

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“Sometimes, people come up to me when I am knitting and they say things like, “Oh, I wish I could knit, but I’m just not the kind of person who can sit and waste time like that.” How can knitting be wasting time? First, I never just knit; I knit and think, knit and listen, knit and watch. Second, you aren’t wasting time if you get a useful or beautiful object at the end of it.” – Stephanie Pearl-McPhee, At Knit’s End: Meditations for Women Who Knit Too Much.

If you thought knitting and textiles were for old ladies, think again!

Featured photo credit: DSC_0012/Mary-Frances Main via flickr.com

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