Learning & Behavior

, Volume 46, Issue 4, pp 449–461 | Cite as

Dogs do not demonstrate a human-like bias to defer to communicative cues

  • Angie M. JohnstonEmail author
  • Yiyun Huang
  • Laurie R. Santos


Human children and domesticated dogs learn from communicative cues, such as pointing, in highly similar ways. In two experiments, we investigate whether dogs are biased to defer to these cues in the same way as human children. We tested dogs on a cueing task similar to one previously conducted in human children. Dogs received conflicting information about the location of a treat from a Guesser and a Knower, who either used communicative cues (i.e., pointing; Experiments 1 and 2), non-communicative physical cues (i.e., a wooden marker; Experiment 1), or goal-directed actions (i.e., grasping; Experiment 2). Although human children tested previously struggled to override inaccurate information provided by the Guesser when she used communicative cues, in contrast to physical cues or goal-directed actions, dogs were more likely to override the Guesser’s information when she used communicative cues or goal-directed actions than when she used non-communicative physical cues. Given that dogs did not show the same selective bias towards the Guesser’s information in communicative contexts, these findings provide clear evidence that dogs do not demonstrate a human-like bias to defer to communicative cues. Instead, dogs may be more likely to critically evaluate information presented via communicative cues than either physical or non-communicative cues.


Social learning Theory of mind Canine cognition Comparative psychology 



We would like to thank the members of the Canine Cognition Center at Yale for their helpful assistance and feedback, particularly Alondra Arguello, Mikey Bogese, Arianna Neal, Astrid Hengartner, Jack Schleifer, Kacie Saxer-Taulbee, Lena Nasrallah, Molly Byrne, Nele Löecher, Nikita Cotzias, and Emily Reagan. AMJ was supported by a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship under Grant No. DGE-1122492, YH was supported by a University of Rochester Discover Grant for Undergraduate Research, and the Canine Cognition Center at Yale was supported by an NSF REU grant (SMS-1659085). All procedures performed were in accordance with the ethical standards of and the approved by the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee of Yale University (#2014-11616).

Supplementary material

13420_2018_341_MOESM1_ESM.docx (33 kb)
Supplementary Table 1 (DOCX 32.8 kb)


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Copyright information

© Psychonomic Society, Inc. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologyYale UniversityNew HavenUSA
  2. 2.Department of Brain and Cognitive SciencesUniversity of RochesterRochesterUSA

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