A Calculator You Can Pet!

See those two good boys? What if I told you they were discussing the best way to solve quadratic equations!

They aren't. I would be lying.

Dogs, however, have been found to process number information in their heads, just like I have to when I can't find a calculator.

Humans have a part of the brain called the parietal cortex that deals with, for example, keeping track of how many pretzels are left in the bowl, or how many other people are in the movie theater to see a revival screening of Dog Day Afternoon. This sensitivity to numbers is called numerosity. It doesn't involve any training or symbolic thought.

Previous research found that certain monkeys showed numerosity activity in the parietal cortex. There has also been studies where dogs were trained to recognize differences in numerical quantities.

But this study involved no training for the dogs. They were simply hooked up to fMRI scanners and looked at dots flashed on a screen. The area of the dots was kept constant, to rule out that the dogs were responding to the size of the dot pattern, rather than the number of dots.

The scans showed activity in the same part of the brain as humans as the number of dots flashed changed. This means that dogs have the same innate ability to process number information as we do.

I wish I had known about this a long time ago, because I could have used some help with my math homework.

The work was supported by the National Institutes of Health, the John Merck Fund and the Office of Naval Research.

The study was published in the journal Biology Letters.

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