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62% of people claim that
their pets understand what they say.
Whether or not animals can hear, recognise
一直以来 动物到底能否听到 识别
and possibly even understand what human say
has always been a profound mystery.
Recent evidence attempts to reveal, once and for all,
whether Tony the terrier knows the difference
between “good boy” and “Tony, did you chew my slippers?”
Dogs may respond to these sentences,
but do dogs and other animals actually understand
the meaning behind those sentences?
Or are they just well-trained?
You may be very surprised
by what you’re about to discover about animal perception.
Thoughty² Can Anmials Understand Humans?
In 1984, researchers at the National Marine Mammal Foundation in California
noticed something quite unusual.
They claimed that they heard voices of people talking around an enclosure
where they kept a Beluga whale known as Noc.
They were fairly certain it wasn’t anything paranormal,
after all the voices sounded so real.
Eventually a diver went into the tank where Noc was being held,
and he noticed the strangest thing.
Noc, the Beluga whale, was talking to him in an eerily human-like voice.
Incredibly, the whale reportedly told the diver to “get out”,
This is an actual recording of Noc imitating human speech.
It kind of sounds like a human talking through a kazoo, doesn’t it?
That’s because unlike humans who use their larynx,
whales use their nasal tract to produce sounds,
making everything sound all nasally.
It’s believed that Noc,
having lived most of his life in close proximity to humans,
learnt to mimic the human voice.
But the real question is,
was Noc merely repeating noises that he picked up from humans
or did he actually understand the meaning behind what he was saying?
Asian elephants, seals and parrots
have also be known to imitate human speech.
But do they understand what they are saying?
And do they understand what we say to them?
In 1891, a German high school mathematics teacher,
1891年 一名叫Wilhelm Von Osten的
named Wilhelm Von Osten
convinced himself that animals could be taught basic mathematics.
He tried to teach maths to a cat,
a horse and a bear.
The cat couldn’t care less
and was only interested in itself.
The bear was just downright hostile towards him,
but the horse showed great promise.
After extensive tutelage, the horse, named Hans,
learnt to tap his hoof in response to numbers
that Von Osten would write on his blackboard.
If Von Osten wrote the number two,
Hans would tap his hoof twice,
if he wrote four,
Hans would tap four times, and so on.
Spurred on by this success,
Von Osten proceeded to teach Hans to answer basic mathematical equations.
Von Osten would write on the blackboard “2 + 2 =”
and Hans would tap his hoof four times.
Von Osten was delighted and exhibited Hans
to the public all over Germany.
During these shows, which Von Osten never charged admission for,
the crowd were awe-stricken
as Hans correctly answered an array of basic maths equations
by using his hoof to tap out the answers.
Hans could seemingly add, subtract, multiply, divide
and even work out the square root of a number.
Hans would correctly answer around 89% of the questions.
The news of “Hans the genius horse”
rapidly spread across Germany.
But along with Hans’ fame
came critics and skeptics.
A psychologist, Oskar Pfungst asked to do some experiments with Hans
Von Osten答应了一位叫Oskar Pfungst的心理学家
to which Von Osten agreed.
Oskar Pfungst erected a large tent to perform the experiments
to eradicate the possibility of Hans being influenced by outside stimuli.
As a control test,
Pfungst asked Von Osten to step inside the tent
and ask Hans mathematical questions like he usually does.
As expected, Hans got most of the questions correct.
However, Pfungst then asked Von Osten
然而 Pfungst之后要求Von Osten
to move a little far away from Hans
while he asked the questions,
and subsequently, Hans got far fewer answers correct.
Finally, Pfungst told Von Osten to ask Hans questions
最后 Pfungst要求Von Osten去问Hans一些
that he knew Von Osten did not know the answer to.
When Von Osten asked these questions,
the accuracy of Hans’answers fell to almost zero.
It appeared that in order for Hans to get the answer correct,
the person asking the question,
had to know the answer to the question also.
These results were very strange,
but incredibly interesting,
so Pfungst investigated further.
He observed Von Osten’s facial expressions and postures
while he was asking Hans the questions.
Pfungst noticed Von Osten’s facial expression and posture change,
right after he asked a question.
His face and posture would tense up
in expectation of Hans’ answer.
However each time Hans tapped his hoof
and got closer to the correct answer,
Von Osten’s posture and expressions
would relax and become happier,
because he was relieved that
Hans had seemingly arrived at the correct answer
all by himself.
It transpired that the horse was receiving small visual clues
that acted as feedback.
The horse would start tapping
as soon as he observed Von Osten
asking the question and then tensing up.
When the tension had alleviated from Von Osten’s face,
Hans would stop tapping his hoof.
Hans was never actually doing any mathematics,
he was simply well attuned to his owner’s visual clues.
Von Osten was shocked at this revelation,
because he was completely unaware that
he was providing Hans with these unconscious visual clues.
He genuinely thought his horse was a genius.
The results of Pfungst’s experiment
had enormous effects on how all scientific experiments
would be carried out in the future.
This phenomenon came to be known as
“The Clever Hans Effect.”
The Clever Hans Effect, as we know it today,
is when an experimenter unwittingly alters the results of an experiment,
simply because he or she is expecting a certain result.
The simple expectation for something to happen
can have huge consequences on an experiment’s results,
without the experimenter even realising it.
These days, necessary measures are taken when working with both humans and animals
近来 无论实验对象是人类还是动物 都会采取必要措施
to prevent the Clever Hans effect from altering the results of experiments.
A border collie named Rico came into the spotlight in 2004
after being intensively studied by animal psychologists
from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Germany.
The researchers showed such a great interest in Rico
because his owners reported
that he could understand over 200 words.
A feat previously unheard of in the canine kingdom.
To test whether Rico’s skills were a bunch of fluff
or a truly bone-a-fide talent,
the researchers set up an experiment.
The researchers arranged 200 toys on the floor
in a room adjacent to where Rico was being held.
They did this ten toys at a time,
each toy had a unique name,
such as “fluffy” or “squeezy”.
Rico’s owner had already trained him
to remember the name of each toy.
Each time the researchers let Rico into the room with the toys
and asked Rico to fetch a toy, then another toy and another,
until Rico had fetch all 10 toys.
While the researchers were issuing commands to Rico,
they stayed on the other side of a dividing wall
where Rico could hear them but not see them
to eliminate the Clever Hans effect.
In total, Rico successfully remembered
and retrieved 93% of the toys.
But this was only a test of Rico’s memory,
not his cognitive function.
i.e his ability to use logic and inference, just like a human.
So the researchers did a second experiment.
They arranged seven items in the room
with an eighth item which was brand new,
which they gave a unique name too.
Rico had never seen or heard the name
of this new item before.
When Rico was let into the room
and asked to fetch the new item,
he was very quickly able to infer which was the new toy
and fetched it straight away.
Rico seemingly used a process of deduction and elimination.
This is called “fast mapping”,
a process where one is able to quickly learn a new concept
after a single exposure to brand new information.
Human toddlers do this all the time,
it’s how they learn.
Even more amazingly,
Rico was able to fetch the new toys again,
four weeks later, having only seen them once.
Out of the six new items that Rico was shown four weeks prior,
he remembered three of them four weeks later.
Interestingly, three out of six is the same rate
at which adult humans are able to remember things
that they saw four weeks ago.
Chaser is another border collie
who can reportedly remember the name of 1,000 toys
and can retrieve each one of them, just like Rico.
But Chaser has another unique talent,
she is able to recognise verbs.
From a young age, Chaser’s owner,
a retired psychologist,
trained Chaser to understand and utilise three verbs,
nose paw and fetch.
闻 踩 叼
When Chaser’s owner says “paw slinky”,
Chaser will go over to the toy named slinky
and put her paw on it.
Similarly, if “nose slinky” is said,
Chaser will put her nose on the slinky toy,
and when “fetch slinky” is said,
Chaser will fetch the slinky toy.
Chaser’s owner is able to swap the verb and the name of the toy
for any one of 1,000 different toys,
and Chaser will go over to the correct toy
and do the correct action almost 100% of the time.
That’s about the same cognitive ability as a three-year-old human child.
This also demonstrates something astonishing.
Chaser doesn’t simply remember each and every command,
it’s not just a cheap memory trick.
Chaser’s brain is actually using cognitive function
to determine what to do in each given situation.
This is no different to how a human brain works.
Although this is rather basic stuff for an adult human.
It’s an amazing display of cognitive ability and logical inference for an animal.
It demonstrates that dogs do understand what we say,
provided they are given the opportunity
to learn these human-like concepts as a puppy.
But that’s not different from a human,
human’s have to learn this stuff too.
We aren’t born knowing what
“go get daddy a beer” means.
As a baby, we learn the individual words
that construct that sentence,
and then as a toddler,
we use our brain’s cognitive ability,
especially our fast mapping ability
to know what we should do
when those words are arranged into that sentence in that order,
just like Rico and Chaser are doing.
Dog’s aren’t able to learn as fast
or to the same extent as humans.
So, realistically their ability is capped compared to humans.
所以事实上 和人类相比 狗的能力是有上限的
However, provided they are given the correct education
and training from an early age,
dogs most definitely can understand at least a small percentage
of what you say to them.
So when you say “time for walkies”
and your dog goes freaking mental.
It may not just be because
they have associated the word “walkies “
with running about outside with their beloved owner,
there’s actually some very basic level of understanding there.
But don’t think you can go and have full-blown esoteric conversations
with your canine buddy.
They may understand the odd word or two,
but first and foremost,
dogs use smell to communicate and differentiate between objects and people.
They’re probably going to understand a lot more of
what you’re trying to communicate to then,
if you roll around in the garden for ten minutes,
then let them sniff you than if you try to explain to them
why you had such a bad day at the office.
So far, we’ve only talked about dogs, horses and whales,
目前为止 我们只讨论了狗狗 马和鲸鱼
but what about other animals?
After all, the spectrum of animal cognition
spans the entire animal kingdom.
Take Koko the gorilla for example.
Koko is a female gorilla
who has learnt to modified version of Americian sign language.
Koko was taught from an early age
and now she can reportedly understand and use
1,000 different signs of what her trainer calls “Gorilla Sign Language”,
and she understands over 2,000 words of spoken English.
Naturally, Koko has been the subject of
numerous scientific studies, articles and books.
But whether or not Koko actually understands sign language
in the same way a human does
is a topic of hot debate.
Some researchers argue that
Koko hasn’t actually mastered sign language at all
and she doesn’t understand the words she is signing.
They insist that Koko’s human-like sign language abilities
are simply a result of operant conditioning.
Operant conditioning is when someone learns to do something
because there’s a reward at the end of it.
For example, if you showed a toddler three different coloured boxes,
blue green and red
and placed a sweet in the green box,
the toddler would then learn to
always open the green box in the future
in order to get the sweet.
Koko may have simply learnt to
make certain shapes and signs with her hands
because she is rewarded for doing so.
Video evidence showed that
Koko was also being influenced by the Clever Hans effect.
Her trainers were giving her unconscious facial clues
to prompt her to make certain gestures with her hands.
Despite all this, Koko’s trainers are adamant that
there’s more going on in Koko’s head
than researchers give her credit for.
One piece of evidence which suggests
a greater level of cognition in Koko’s brain,
occurred when Koko’s baby was taken away from her.
The day after her baby was removed,
she reportedly signed the word “baby” to her keeper.
This is known as displacement,
the ability to talk about objects that
are not currently present in the room
and it’s something that we thought was unique to humans,
and it’s very rarely observed in the animal kingdom.
Also, Koko has been known to talk about new objects
that she hasn’t even been taught how to sign.
For example, Koko has never been taught the sign language
for the the word “ring”.
But Koko combined the signs
for “finger” and “bracelet” to refer to a ring.
If you think about it,
a ring is just a tiny bracelet for your finger,
that’s pretty smart going Koko.
Events such as this suggest that
Koko has a higher level of understanding
of the words she is actually signing.
But there’s a dark side to all that gorilla intelligence.
Koko enjoys seeing human nipples
and she often asks her female caregivers using sign language
to show her their nipples.
This unusual behavior actually resulted in a sexual harassment lawsuit
by one of Koko’s female caregivers in 2005.
Maybe it’s not such a good idea
we try to communicate with animals after all.
Dolphins are often said to be
one of the smartest animals in the world,
and they certainly proved it in a 1984 study.
Two bottlenose dolphins were taught human language.
The first dolphin named Phoenix
was taught how to comprehend human speech.
The second dolphin, Akeakamai,
was taught a form of sign language.
Both dolphins were taught a large variety of words,
such as object names, actions and object modifiers.
All of which could be combined and rearranged
into hundreds of unique sentences to form a command.
For example, “swim to the blue ring”
or “pick up the red ring”.
The commands were given to the dolphins
using computed generated voices and videos,
to prevent the Clever Hans effect.
Both dolphins were able to comprehend and execute the given commands
at a much higher success rate than what would be considered chance.
Understanding words and simple one-word commands is one thing.
But for an animal to understand complex three-to-five word commands
and accurately follow them is quite simply, astonishing.
Experiments such as these prove that
many animals have an unprecedented level of
understanding of human speech and communication.
Up to now, we’ve only explored a minute fraction of intellect
within the animal kingdom,
who knows what some animals are really capable of.
A real life planet of the apes may be just around the corner.
But until then, you should probably watch
what you’re saying around your pets.
They may be listening a bit more attentively than you think.
Thanks for the view,
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Hey, thoughty² here.