Word generalization by a dog (Canis familiaris): is shape important?

van der Zee, Emile, Zulch, Helen and Mills, Daniel (2012) Word generalization by a dog (Canis familiaris): is shape important? PLoS One, 7 (11). e49382. ISSN 1932-6203

Full content URL: http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0049382

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Item Type:Article
Item Status:Live Archive


We investigated the presence of a key feature of human word comprehension in a five year old Border Collie: the generalization of a word referring to an object to other objects of the same shape, also known as shape bias. Our first experiment confirmed a solid history of word learning in the dog, thus making it possible for certain object features to have become central in his word comprehension. Using an experimental paradigm originally employed to establish shape bias in children and human adults we taught the dog arbitrary object names (e.g. dax) for novel objects. Two experiments showed that when briefly familiarized with word-object mappings the dog did not generalize object names to object shape but to object size. A fourth experiment showed that when familiarized with a word-object mapping for a longer period of time the dog tended to generalize the word to objects with the same texture. These results show that the dog tested did not display human-like word comprehension, but word generalization and word reference development of a qualitatively different nature compared to humans. We conclude that a shape bias for word generalization in humans is due to the distinct evolutionary history of the human sensory system for object identification and that more research is necessary to confirm qualitative differences in word generalization between humans and dogs.

Keywords:shape-based object detection, Canis familiaris
Subjects:C Biological Sciences > C890 Psychology not elsewhere classified
D Veterinary Sciences, Agriculture and related subjects > D300 Animal Science
Divisions:College of Science > School of Life Sciences
ID Code:7069
Deposited On:09 Dec 2012 18:20

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