Environmental influences on behavioural responses on the object choice task in dogs and children: implications for the evolution of human cognition

Clark, Hannah (2019) Environmental influences on behavioural responses on the object choice task in dogs and children: implications for the evolution of human cognition. Doctoral thesis (PhD), University of Sussex.

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Several prominent theories claim that humans possess specialised socio-cognitive skills that emerge early in ontogeny and are attributable to selective histories not shared by other hominids. The generally poor performance of nonhuman primates on tasks designed to measure skills of joint attention, such as the Object Choice Task (OCT), is a key evidence base for these theories. Similar claims are made for domestic dogs, whose apparent proficiency in following pointing cues is taken as evidence for the idea that domestication selected for advanced socio-cognitive skills. The aim of this thesis is to extend current reviews which highlight methodological differences in OCT studies that compare across species, by first analysing the prevalence and the effects of such confounds in the existing literature, and then by conducting a series of systematic experiments to further investigate how these differences may affect behavioural responses. This thesis presents six papers, beginning with a meta-analysis of 71 published OCT studies with nonhuman primates and dogs, which finds between-groups differences in subjects’ pre-experimental histories, the use of a barrier in the form of a test cage, and the types of cues presented. Effects of performance associated with these differences were also found. Following this are four papers which present the results of empirical studies manipulating the presence of a barrier in the testing environment and the spatial configuration of the test set-up distinguishing between central and peripheral versions of the task with human children and dogs. For both taxonomic groups, there were differences in the behavioural responses elicited, and some performance effects for dogs. A further paper finds no effect of manipulating food reward type in an OCT with children. This demonstrates that failing to match testing environments represents an experimental confound and challenges the validity of phylogenetic theories based on studies which use incommensurate test protocols.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Schools and Departments: School of Psychology > Psychology
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BF Psychology > BF0199 Behaviourism. Neobehaviourism. Behavioural psychology
B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BF Psychology > BF0311 Consciousness. Cognition
Depositing User: Library Cataloguing
Date Deposited: 19 Dec 2019 11:27
Last Modified: 19 Jan 2022 08:29
URI: http://sro.sussex.ac.uk/id/eprint/88924

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