Welcome to STEMology – Show Notes
Season 1, Episode 36
Jerk-hating mongooses, logarithmic soup perception, tumour-killing parasites & dogs going full tilt
In today’s episode of STEMology…
Sophie & Dave talk about mongooses’ rejection towards jerks in its communities, calculating the perception of soup thickness using logarithm, killing tumour with kitty poop parasites and why dogs tilt their heads..
Mongooses hate jerks … They hate them so much to the point where like they will withhold grooming from jerk mongooses, which apparently is one of the most offensive things you can do in Mongoose society.
So they modeled that mathematically, so they could kind of objectively, calculate the total stress on their fluids by the your tongue and roof of mouth combo
And really interestingly, even though they’re injecting the parasite into these big tumors that they’ve made with the inoculation, they also saw shrinking in the tumors that were not at the primary site.
Apparently it (dog’s head tilting) could be a sign of increased concentration and attention, and also maybe evidence of what they call lateralization of processing of the information.
This is a “kind of, sort of, vaguely close” copy of the words that David & Sophie speak in this episode.
IT IS NOT 100% accurate. We are very sorry if we have spelt something completely incorrectly. If it means a lot to you to have it corrected, email us at email@example.com
[00:00:00] David: Welcome to episode 36 of STEMology.
[00:00:02] Sophie: a podcast sharing some of the interesting fun, and sometimes just patently bizarre news in science, technology, engineering, or maths.
[00:00:11] David: Your hosts are Dr. Sophie Calabretto and Dr. David Farmer
[00:00:14] Sophie: in today’s episode of stem ology, we’ll be chatting about jerk- hating mongoose’s, logarithmic soup perception,
[00:00:22] David: Tumor killing parasites, and dogs going full tilt.
[00:00:26] David: Mongooses hate jerks.
[00:00:29] Sophie: they hate them so much to the point where like they will withhold grooming from jerk mongooses, which apparently is one of the most offensive things you can do in Mongoose society.
[00:00:41] David: Apparently it is. and apparently according to this new study, it’s related to the sounds of mongooses being jerks. So it’s like, Hey Tony, I heard you being a jerk last night. I’m not going to groom you. Go suck it.
[00:00:53] Sophie: Yeah. Groom yourself Tony, are
[00:00:55] David: yourself yet. Jerk.
[00:00:57] Sophie: So, Yeah. this is the new work that’s come out of the university [00:01:00] of Bristol, the universities of Bristol and New England. And, basically they tell us that mongooses hold the best kind of grudges. So a mongoose individual who is not involved in altercations can both track aggressive behavior of others and act on that info at a later time.
[00:01:16] So they’ve got great memories for jerks and they will punish them accordingly so everyone can get on in their little mongoose societies.
[00:01:23] David: So I read a little bit about the aggressive interactions because I was interested in why mongooses would be aggressive to one another.
[00:01:30] Sophie: Is it just food?
[00:01:31] David: Yeah, No apparently there’s two, there’s relatively rare, targeted aggression, which is apparently to do with reinforcing rank because they live in a hierarchical society
[00:01:38] and that’s mainly due to reproductive conflict apparently. And then there’s a more relatively common as you say, forging displacements, which is where a higher ranking individual displaces, a lower ranking group member from a foraging patch by and I quote, hip slamming the latter away from the food resource.
[00:01:57] Sophie: Well, look, I mean, that’s an effective way to get a [00:02:00] mongoose away from your snacks, but yeah, so apparently I think part of this has to do so your first point that you made, what I didn’t realize is in these like mongoose social groups, they basically have a dominant breeding pair and then a whole bunch of non breeding subordinate helpers of both sexes.
[00:02:16] So I guess that makes sense with the first, so you’ve got your dominant breeders and then et al and you know, sometimes people are unhappy with that. So, Yeah.
[00:02:22] apparently, so we’re talking about, specifically about a dwarf mongoose, which is Africa’s smallest carnivore and they live Cooperatively in breeding groups of up to 30 individuals, but only two of those, individuals are our dominant breeding pair. and so what they did is they, so this is interesting. So they had is a scientist watching these wild mongooses, but in a way that the mongooses has become accustomed to them.
[00:02:47] And are very happy to go about their normal mongoose life while being watched. But I don’t know if you read this in that paper, Dave, but so the animals in the study were individually marked with blonde hair dye so they [00:03:00] could work out which ones were in the study and they were trained to climb on a balance scale to weigh themselves.
[00:03:05] And then they could also be watched from a few feet away as they go about their natural behavior in their ecologically valid conditions.
[00:03:12] David: That’s really intense. That’s I mean, this is one of those pieces of work where you’re like the doing of it is as impressive as the finding.
[00:03:18] Sophie: yeah. And so, yeah, and the whole ideas, you said it’s all got to do with vocalization. So what they did is they watched these mongooses for a long period of time. And then based on that, they went, okay. So we can, we realize that they’re monitoring these vocal cues. So let’s record some of these, play them back and then get them to fight each other, even though they didn’t really do it.
[00:03:36] And nothing bad is happening right now.
[00:03:38] David: Yeah, So they basically framed various members of the mongoose population. So they would simulate repeatedly, instances of a particular kind of conflict between an aggressor and an agressee. So someone upsetting someone and someone getting upset then observe the grooming behavior that happened.
[00:03:57] So they found two things. One was that [00:04:00] on evenings after they simulated increased conflict, the subordinate mongoose group members would groom each other more than a normal evening. So that induced more kind of social activity because apparently the grooming behavior is really important to their social structure, et cetera. But also the subordinates ignored the people who had been framed for being aggressors. They received substantially less grooming than on other occasions,
[00:04:24] Sophie: Yeah.
[00:04:25] cause Yeah. I think one thing to add is in these vocalizations, the aggressive was always one of these dominant members and then the victims were always the subordinate members. Cause that’s just what naturally happens in these kinds of natural foraging, displacements, but you’re right.
[00:04:38] So basically the subordinates are all just kind of like patting each other on the back and being like it’s okay. Like I’ll give you some extra grooming. You’re like, you’re doing a good job. You’re a great mongoose. Well, they just gave shoulder.. Yeah.
[00:04:50] And there’s like, yeah. And Tony is a jerk and I’m not going to groom him. So so apparently this is quite important, Dave, because it’s been suggested in the past that it might be difficult for some animals to [00:05:00] remember past altercations between group mates, because one of the main points here as well is that the mongooses that are exhibiting this no grooming or extra grooming behavior and not the ones involved in the conflict. So they are observers of a conflict, but they still kind of exact punishment for the good of the community.
[00:05:17] David: Yeah, and that’s really important, then that’s really important for the society as a whole, because if so this conflict leads to aggression and injury that’s problematic because you know, then you have a bunch of injured mongooses wandering around, and that’s bad for the society as a whole.
[00:05:33] So there are these social mechanisms in place that kind of deal with that. That mean that it can happen because obviously it has to happen for that sexual dominance thing that’s important to their society to, take place. It doesn’t happen to such an extent that everyone is injured and everyone hates one another. There are these social mechanisms to keep it in check, which beautiful
[00:05:53] Sophie: So basically it’s like the ultimate conflict management process, which seems to work pretty well
[00:05:59] David: It’s great. [00:06:00] also just to run this off, maybe, unless you’ve got more, I did a little bit of research as to why it’s mongooses and not mongeese.
[00:06:06] Sophie: Okay, please tell me, because I have used all of my self control, not to say mongeese like a bunch of times
[00:06:11] David: So I think would probably be fine because we’d all know what you meant, but so apparently the reason it’s geese and not gooses with regards to the goose is this is an instance in language of what’s called eye mutation. So basically the word would have been goose and that would be the singular.
[00:06:28] And then originally gooses would have been the plural So just in the same way that you add the S sound to the end of anything and it become the plural.
[00:06:34] Sophie: Yeah. like moose and mousses.
[00:06:36] David: Yeah. Yeah. So that would’ve been it, but apparently eye mutation is something that happens when we speak things frequently. So basically when you say the first syllable of gooses, your mouth is already in your brain is already getting ready to say the second syllable and over repeated.
[00:06:52] Basically because we’re lazy. That means that we begin to change the way we say the first syllable. So over hundreds of years, [00:07:00] gooses became geeses until the mutated sound of the first syllable became synonymous with the plural And then we just started saying geese and other examples of this are things like, man men, foot feet, tooth, teeth, goose geese, slow slice.
[00:07:15] And mouse mice are all examples of the same.
[00:07:17] Sophie: so, man used to be pluralized as men’s and then it became men’s and then it became men.
[00:07:23] David: so, yeah. So what I read on etymology.com, which is an astonishing website, that’s moderated by a single person.
[00:07:30] Sophie: Oh my gosh. I didn’t realize
[00:07:31] David: my
[00:07:32] Sophie: such a good website.
[00:07:34] David: it’s an amazing website. So apparently that was a Western manic one. Man was a Western manic word that became menace. It plural then that became manners.
[00:07:45] And then apparently that became men
[00:07:48] Sophie: there you go.
[00:07:49] David: there you have
[00:07:50] Sophie: Thank you, mongooses for teaching us about words and effective conflict resolution.
[00:07:55] David: So presumably it’s not mongeese just because we haven’t referred to it often enough in the [00:08:00] plural for us to do the lazy thing and
[00:08:01] Sophie: And you try to suggest that we don’t talk about mongooses enough in the society?
[00:08:05] David: That’s exactly what I’m suggesting. And this episode is one step in the right direction.
[00:08:08] Sophie: That’s right. STEMology listeners, make it happen. Turn mongooses to Mon geese more
[00:08:16] David: monkey says, so it has be mungus mung, gooses, Mon Gieses mung, geese.
[00:08:23] Sophie: it’s up to you.
Logarithmic soup perception
[00:08:24] Sophie: Dave,
[00:08:36] David: Sophie.
[00:08:37] Sophie: Dave, did you know that we perceive the thickness of a liquid food based on logarithmic stimuli in a similar way to which we perceive visual or auditory information?
[00:08:47] David: Yes, apparently this is the fact that we perceive the thickness of a soup or something really any liquid in our mouths logarithmically as opposed to linearly. And we should explain exactly what that [00:09:00] means.
[00:09:00] Sophie: Yes.
[00:09:00] I had not actually heard of this. I didn’t realize. And then I, I mean, I realized I hadn’t heard of it, but I didn’t realize this was a thing that we did. And then I went and looked into it and this is crazy. So, you know, so think about it. I think sound is a really good way think about
[00:09:11] David: Yes.
[00:09:11] Sophie: so we can hear very, very soft noises and we can resist loud ones. Right. And our scale of perception is logarithmic. And that’s based on, like, if you look at a log of graph, which basically just think of something that’s kind of like, it looks like it’s increasing linearly and then sort of starts to curve off. And then it kind of plateaus at an asymptote.
[00:09:28] So the whole idea is like, for example, if you double the force on your hand, it will feel like less than double the pressure, right? Or if you double the salinity of water, the taste will be not twice as salty, it will be a bit less than that. And so basically it’s that our senses soften intensitive certain stimuli when they’re strong and strengthen them when they’re weak.
[00:09:50] And, but this is a fun fact, Dave, when I was learning about this. Perception of length as a linear scale perception of an electric shock is exponential. So it’s the opposite.
[00:09:58] David: Ah, I was not aware of [00:10:00] that. So yeah. the classic example that people might have heard of the decibel scale. the decibel scale is a way of measuring loudness. So if you have a sound that’s 10 decibels and a sound that’s 20 decibels. Even though we perceive those things as something 10 decibels and 20 decibels, we perceive one as being twice as loud as the other. 20 decibels is actually physically objectively 10 times louder than that’s 10 decibels. So yeah, we’re perceiving large changes over a small scale in our brains, because as you say, this allows us to perceive very, very quiet things, but also very, very loud things.
[00:10:35] Sophie: Yeah. and apparently, yeah, this is exactly the same, but people’s perception of the thickness of soup, which I think is like slightly crazy and a little bit amazing. And for what they’re testing. They went into a lot of detail.
[00:10:48] David: They went trouble.
[00:10:49] Sophie: They went to a lot of trouble with their modeling.
[00:10:51] And so the idea was they basically, so they tested it in two ways. So they came up with like quite, I would say a sophisticated way to [00:11:00] evaluate the total stress exerted on a fluid by the tongue. So like, if you were to put some fluid in your mouth and kind of like move it between your tongue and the top of your mouth.
[00:11:08] Like you’re a bit of like a wonky, like connoisseur or a wine taster Right. So they, modeled that mathematically, so they could kind of objectively, calculate the total stress on their fluids by the your tongue and roof of mouth combo. And then they got a bunch of like highly trained people to then basically eat these soups as well and give them a score in a, I think it’s a 16 point category scale.
[00:11:35] And then basically they looked at the difference between, you know, the actual thickness, the actual feel, and then how people perceived it. And it turned out that it fit really beautifully. on this logarithmic scale, like so many things.
[00:11:48] David: That’s beautiful. I really enjoyed looking at the paper there was basically some really good methods section chat where they talk about basically cooking, but in a really scientific way. So we prepared 14 [00:12:00] liquid billions ranging in viscosity from one milli Pascal to one Pascal, according to a fixed protocol and a classic saucepan.
[00:12:07] of your fancy schmancy, modern sauce pans, the different liquid bouillions were cooked in a conventional sauce pan. The water was boiled and dispersed using a regular whisker and the resulting liquid billions were filtered using a standard kitchen sieve. So there’s just a lot of different words in there to describe really normal things being done.
[00:12:26] And in a kitchen, basically a lab kitchen.
[00:12:30] Sophie: Yeah. But the thing that I look to though, so they, you know, they go into the details as well that, you know, the panel testing was done with a tablespoon of the semi-liquid bouillons. So that’s around four millimeters.
[00:12:39] David: I feel like that’s almost an inverted commas, a tablespoon.
[00:12:43] Sophie: Yeah.
[00:12:44] And they, maybe they might like, you know, they do you reckon they got real? Sure you can get like, you know, you’ve got your dessert, spend your tablespoons, then you’re going to actual measuring spoon. I no, they wouldn’t have made that. They wouldn’t have made the meat, the amount of measuring spoons, Dave, because so apparently the whole idea was these experts knew to then [00:13:00] spread that four milliliters of liquid over the tongue surface and trap it between the palate and the tongue, but also, they have to be served in a bowl because these are fancy people. So apparently they had, 150 mils of product served in a preheated China’s super bowl. And in between courses of soups, they use tap water and unsalted cream crackers as a palette cleanser.
[00:13:21] David: read that. That’s amazing. They’ve done an amazing bit of work. Right? So Sophie, they also did some modeling. They said they modeled the swallowing process and compared the Realogy and Realogy is the study of viscosity.
[00:13:33] Sophie: Yeah. And so it was actually, it was really interesting. So what they did is that yeah, they modeled this. So they looked at like, as I said, we’ve kind of got this. This system with a flat palate and then you’ll kind of squishy tongue and they looked at these things and they worked out that, you know, mathematically, it was okay to approximate the tongue pallet system by two parallel plates, separated by a certain distance, but then pressed together by a constant force.
[00:13:56] And of course, if you think about it, when you taste something, your tongue is moving [00:14:00] relative to the roof of your mouth. It’s in the bottom plate in the system is the tongue which moves at a speed V relative to the top palette to deformed the trap liquid, squeezing out the fluid from the Buechel cavity. So they like, they modeled this, but then they looked at all these different things and they actually came up with like, from what I can tell a very valid and quite a complicated mathematical model that I think like very action, like accurately encapsulates exactly what’s happening. Like it was, it was a bit crazy Dave.
[00:14:29] David: Yeah. Yeah. The effort. So, yeah, as you say, so they make a basic assumption, which is that the thickness of fluid is determined by holding it between the tongue and the palate. So basically biologically the thickness you perceive by the transmission of the stresses on the mechanical receptors of your tongue.
[00:14:43] So McKenna receptors are for sensing receptors on tongue, and presumably the top of your mouth as well. I don’t know what else to say about this. I just love this, this is like surely an Ig Nobel prize contender.
[00:14:54] Sophie: You know what Dave, I’m going to disagree. I think this is a Nobel prize contender. and then [00:15:00] apparently this is quite like this finding a significant, because it confirms something that I never heard of before, which is called the, Weber-Fechner Law in bio-sensing and apparently the Weber-Fechner laws are two related hypotheses in the field of psychophysics known as Weber’s law and Fechner’s law. creatively. And basically both of them have to do with human perception. And that whole idea about, looking at the specific relation between an actual change in physical stimulus and a perceived change. And this work is just something else that goes to confirming that Weber-Fechner law.
[00:15:32] That’s very good. And I just, yeah, it was, it was great. This one was beautiful. And as I said, don’t worry about Ig nobel prize, Nobel prize.
[00:15:38] David: Nobel prize straight up, no Igs about it.
[00:15:41] Sophie: If anyone from the Nobel prize committee is listening to this episode of stem ology. you know, this is a serious suggestion and please take it into consideration for next time.
[00:15:49] David: As you always do, take our suggestions for the next one.
[00:15:53] Sophie: Yeah. The scientific community really respects our thoughts.
[00:15:55] David: They really just want to know what we think.
[00:15:57] Sophie: [00:16:00] I’ve got nothing funny to say, Dave, except that a deadly parasite known to cause ill health in pregnant women and immunocompromised patients could potentially be used to treat various types of tumors, which is actually like very significant.
[00:16:19] David: That’s right. It is pretty interesting. So this is toxoplasma gondii, which is a parasite that’s capable of infecting virtually all one blood and animals, it’s kind of laterally well-known for being the kitty poop parasites, which is why if you’re immunocompromised or if you’re a pregnant person, then you should be careful about being around cat poop because it can make you sick.
[00:16:37] it’s also lots really interesting because it’s also the one that changes the behavior of rats. So rats that are infected with this parasite are actually less afraid of the smell of cat urine, which is something that they’re evolutionarily programmed to be reasonably very afraid of.
[00:16:52] Sophie: Appropriately one would say.
[00:16:54] David: They’re less afraid of it if they’re infected with this parasite.
[00:16:57] So it’s this advantageous thing for the [00:17:00] cats whereby they host this parasite and it makes it easier for them to kill one of their favorite prey. But that’s not what we’re talking about here. We’re talking about tumor therapy and basically the whole objective in this study is to change what they call cold tumor into hot tumors. So basically in order to target any tumor with a therapy, there needs to be something about that tumor that’s unique to normal tissue, because if there’s something that’s unique about the cancer tissue versus normal tissue, that means we can target that uniqueness therapy while not targeting the normal tissue.
[00:17:32] Right. So. A hot tumor is something that has this. A hot tumor is something that has something on the tumor that distinguishes it from normal tissue. Whereas a cold tumor does not a cold tumor doesn’t have anything that we can target. And that’s what the objective of this study is. So what they’ve done is they’ve looked at injection of toxoplasma gondii strains into tumors themselves in mice, and found that they can induce a strong, adaptive immune response, which shrinks the [00:18:00] tumor, which is wild.
[00:18:01] Sophie: Yeah. And like, when you say shrink the tumor, like this paper has pictures. I mean these poor, poor mice, or where’s this poor
[00:18:07] David: And
[00:18:08] Sophie: they’re having a bad time all the time in science, but Yeah. they have a series of pictures of these mice with these horrible, horrible tumors. And then they have an after shot after they’ve been injected with these things.
[00:18:19] And these tumors have shrunk like visible, hugely shrunk as a result of being in. So just to confirm Dave and I, you know, I’m no good at these things. Like you are biology, who knows. so the whole idea was they created, it was so it’s a mutant strain of this stuff, right? So the idea is that it has a limited ability to grow in cultured cells or cause disease in mice, but it can still manipulate the host immune system.
[00:18:45] So it’s a special kind. So if you were to get any strain of this thing and inject it into a tumor, we don’t recommend that.
[00:18:50] David: Yeah, so.
[00:18:51] Sophie: a special one.
[00:18:52] David: It’s what they call attenuated. It’s attenuated strain. You may have heard of attenuated vaccines before. And basically what that means is that the organism is still alive, [00:19:00] ability to make you sick has been in some way, attenuated, which just means maybe less.
[00:19:05] Sophie: Yeah. And as you said, they, inject them into these mice tumors and then they shrink, like they shrink like, heck, like it was very impressed as someone who knows, I said knows nothing about this. Just looking at that visually it’s like, yeah, that did shrink that tumor, like wow.
[00:19:18] David: Yeah. So they injected tumors the way they did this was they grew up some tumor cells injected them into the right flank of mice. So that’s like, I guess on the right, the right
[00:19:27] Sophie: the flank is like,
[00:19:28] David: area. Oh, it’s your bum, it’s your kind of
[00:19:30] Sophie: it’s like, like on a horse, butt thigh,
[00:19:33] David: yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. One of the tasty bits of calves, and basically when the tumor size reached half a centimeter, which, you know, on a mouse is
[00:19:41] Sophie: It’s huge. I this is why I felt terrible for these guys.
[00:19:44] David: Yeah, they would then inject the, there are two groups. They, one that received just a salient injection and one that received attenuated toxoplasma organism onday 9,, 11 and 13. And they saw that. Yeah. As you say, it’s, there’s a picture of at the end, when they euthanize the mice, they take [00:20:00] out the tumors.
[00:20:01] I just looking at them, just looking at them. You have these huge tumors in the control group that are just substantially shrunk in the treated group. It’s really impressive. so they did that normally just with the parasite itself then they did a combination study. basically they looked at the combination of injecting toxoplasma gondii, and also what’s called an anti immune checkpoint therapy.
[00:20:22] And an immune checkpoint is basically just something that regulates the immune system’s function. And if you it’s important in self tolerance, which is basically. The reason why all of your cells don’t stimulate an immune response is because they have these checkpoints. so if you inhibit those, you render the cells vulnerable to the immune system and basically even better than tumor shrinking, what they saw when they combined these two therapies.
[00:20:46] So they’re still injecting toxoplasma into the tumors and then giving a systemic injection. So just into the belly of this anti immune checkpoint therapy, they showed regression of tumors in these mice. So the tumors were actually shrinking to the point where they were disappeared and they couldn’t see them [00:21:00] anymore.
[00:21:00] and that lasted as long as three months, which I think was as long as they followed this up, which is kind of impressive because basically it’s cured cancer in this mice.
[00:21:08] Sophie: so they injected them to specific tumors, but didn’t they find that it affected other tumors in the body that they didn’t even,
[00:21:14] David: Yeah. So I gathered they inoculate the right flank, so that was their inoculated tumors, but they talk about effects on non inoculated tumors, guess metasticies just tumors that have been flung off by the main tumor and are growing in spots. And really interestingly, even though they’re injecting the parasite into these big tumors that they’ve made with the inoculation, they also saw shrinking in the tumors that were not at the primary site.
[00:21:38] And that’s really interesting because it suggests that just by virtue of the fact that the parasite has been injected into the tumor that somehow sensitizing the immune system to all of the tumors that are in the and they actually test that. So they actually show that you have to inject the parasite into the tumor.
[00:21:54] If you just inject it into,
[00:21:55] and the belly or into a vein. Doesn’t work anymore, [00:22:00] the mice that doesn’t work anymore, you have to do into the tumor. so that’s a really, really, really interesting finding.
[00:22:04] Sophie: So there you go. I mean, that’s pretty, yeah, that’s pretty amazing. So we’d literally injecting mutant bacteria into a tumor and it’s basically boosting anti-tumor immunity and it’s making, as you said, that checkpoint inhibition therapy, like far more effective. This sounds a very good Dave,
[00:22:20] David: It sounds very good. I don’t actually know how close to the clinic this is. I mean, we’re still, it’s one of those ones where we’re always talking in mice and we’re talking about novel things. I don’t know if toxoplasmosis has been, toxoplasma rather has been used to treat disease in human beings of any kind.
[00:22:34] Sophie: You know, my, um, I was just going to add, so apparently this particular bacteria is terrible for sea otter and black-footed penguin populations, but they have an approved live vaccine for sheep. And so does vax. So apparently There’s not one for human. So I’m obviously we’re now using it for good, but just in general, when it’s being bad, um, sheep can be fully vaccinated.
[00:22:57] And then I think they, I don’t know what [00:23:00] series they get, but once they’ve been like fully vaccinated, it provides a lifetime protection for sheep.
[00:23:04] David: There you have it. so apparently, this is a really interesting parasite that changes the behavior of rats and happens in cats and can be used for all kinds of stuff.
[00:23:15] That’s good.
[00:23:16] Sophie: Good on you. Toxoplasma Gondii.
[00:23:18] Well, what a guy
Dogs going full tilt
[00:23:21] Sophie: Dave, a dog cocking its head could actually be a sign of concentration and increased attention.
[00:23:37] Not just confusion than cuteness.
[00:23:39] David: That’s what I read that’s this is the apparently the first study ever to examine head tilting behavior in dogs, according to the authors. so yeah, sometimes when we talk to dogs, they tilt their heads adorably to one side and which might suggest incredulity or confusion.
[00:23:55] But apparently not, apparently it could be a sign of increased concentration and [00:24:00] attention, and also maybe evidence of what they call lateralization of processing of the information.
[00:24:06] So in evidence that the dog is processing the information on one side of its brain versus the other.
[00:24:12] Sophie: Mm. Yeah. So the way that they looked at this was apparently they got 40 dogs of various breeds and they investigated how well they could memorize names for different toys. And then recall that info in order to retrieve specific toys in response to owner’s commands. And then. Most of them are able to learn the names, but there were seven border collies that showed remarkable aptitude for the task.
[00:24:34] And then they do a second and a third experiment. And the bit that, and I’m just going to preface this a bit, that confused me a lot was just this constant reference to these gifted word learner dogs. And so then I looked at the previous studies and I think, I feel like half of this paper is a repetition of two previous studies and the new bit is just the head tilting.
[00:24:52] I got quite confused.
[00:24:54] David: I think you’re right. Yeah. There was a lot of reference to another paper which came out this
[00:24:58] Sophie: I think the other two [00:25:00] both came
[00:25:00] David: of different.
[00:25:01] Sophie: there’s two. Yeah.
[00:25:02] So the thing, because of what they kept referring to these gifted word loaners that have been in this other study. So then I looked up the other study and they said for two years, we searched for dogs of any age and breed or mixed breed. They knew the names of their toys through media announcements and word of mouth during international seminars, conferences, blah, blah, blah.
[00:25:16] So then they recruited these gifted learners and they did two experiments, but so that was previous study. But then that study, refers to those dogs, having been in a previous study where they got 34 naive dogs and six knowledgeable individuals that already knew multiple 20 names.
[00:25:32] So I think, Yeah, I think these are all the same study. I think they’ve written three papers on one study, but there’s been enough repetition to completely confuse me. And I don’t know about, what happens in this discipline, but in maths, you’re not allowed to do that,
[00:25:43] David: Yeah, the co they call that salami slicing sometimes.
[00:25:46] Sophie: we always have to take a box saying, has this stuff been published in any other academic journal?
[00:25:51] And if you say, yes, they go, well, like why is reading this manuscript? But Yeah.
[00:25:54] anyway, let’s get back to the dogs we’re over my confusion. I went back to the dogs and basically, so the first [00:26:00] experiment. So Yeah. well they did is that they tested the recall of domains, but they noticed with, as we said, these seven border collies with remarkable aptitude for the test, they noticed that they were constant headache.
[00:26:12] Or they tilted their heads far more frequently than their non gifted counterparts after the command. apparently it was 43% of the time gifted learners tilted their heads. And the other 33 dogs only did this gesture 2% of the time. So that then led to this, let’s look at the head t ilting
[00:26:27] David: Yes. and it seemed apparently that there was a real, so basically what they say, this is a relationship between the dog’s likelihood of being successful in retrieving a named toy correctly. And how frequently it tilts its head when they hear its name. So you call the dog’s name, it tilts his head.
[00:26:43] If the dog tilts his head, when he hears his name, it’s more likely that it’s going to get the toy right. So basically only these seven colleagues were able to learn the toys names. These were the only ones that were included in the next experiment.
[00:26:56] Sophie: Yes, except one died. So there were
[00:26:58] David: one died, which is sad. I [00:27:00] almost feel like they put it in because it was sad.
[00:27:01] Sophie: Yeah. I mean, I just go like, oh
[00:27:03] David: know, presumably defending its owner from a bear or something
[00:27:07] Sophie: I think so. I think that’s what border collies do. Yeah.
[00:27:09] David: Yeah. So out of these collies. So Whiskey is apparently this, so there’s these gifted learners, and Whiskey brought the correct toy back 54 or 59 times, which seems a lot
[00:27:20] Sophie: Yeah. And then the thing that I thought was interesting is they said that two others were successful more than 90% of the time. And the other three had success rates of between 57 and 75%. Like I get that. If you can do it at all, what makes you gifted compared to another dog? But 57% is not a great amount.
[00:27:35] David: No, that’s pretty close. That’s pretty close to chance. Really?
[00:27:38] Sophie: That’s pretty close to failing this test. if this was an official dog school test,
[00:27:43] David: Cause it should have said. I think in this experiment, it was between, this is the second experiment. So it was between two toys. So it was one toy or another toy. So 57% is pretty close to 50%, which is pretty close to coin toss.
[00:27:54] Sophie: Yeah, exactly. And then they did a third experiment with their six gifted collies and showed that they could learn 12 new toy [00:28:00] names in one week. And then remember those names for at least two months after that. And then there was also something they looked at where, in terms of just the direction of the head tilt, apparently dogs have it, like left-handed, right-handed people, dogs have a head tilt preference, except all I’m saying is an experiment to Nelani was almost at 40-60 for both directions.
[00:28:19] So to me that doesn’t seem like a, a lot of the other dogs had like a very, very preferred head tilt, but Nelani was a bit all over the shop for me. So I dunno.
[00:28:26] David: Yeah. I don’t know how I feel about that either. I mean, one of the things I wondered about this, as they talk about these gifted word learner dogs, and then the head tilting, but it should be clarified that when they recruited the dogs and they talk about recruiting the dogs. They’re recruiting the owners to conduct these studies.
[00:28:43] So these are not experiments that evolve and done by the same experiment or talking same dog that all these dogs in the same way, it’s all very spread across the different owners. So we don’t really have a sense of what the individual differences were between them and whether or not those [00:29:00] individual differences could contribute to. There’s going to be a bit of variety in how those owners interact with their dogs. And obviously dogs have got personalities and owners have personalities, and then they’ll have a dynamic between them.
[00:29:11] So is it as simple as the owner gives the command to the dog understands and then does the thing, or is there, there’s just seemed to be a lot of variables that aren’t under control here.
[00:29:22] Sophie: Yeah. And I think so in in fact, I think it was the original study. They do suggest that all of the dog owners were given the same resources in terms of training, but like they still undertook the training themselves. Like you’re a hundred percent right. So, and then what is interesting that doesn’t even come up at all in this particular study is in the original.
[00:29:38] Study, which is what we’re saying the same study. So in the original paper, when they talk about their 34 naive family dogs and in the six knowledgeable individuals, apparently there was actually one naive dog who also passed the test and they don’t even comment on that. So there was just one random dog that they got, that wasn’t one of these gifted learners that also exhibit like passed in the way that the [00:30:00] gifted learners did.
[00:30:00] And they don’t comment about that at all in this paper. So, you know, we did have our gifted learners, but also normal dogs have proven that. And again, as you said, we don’t know how the training was under, you know, maybe like the family of that dog was just a bit more dedicated to the project. Like you, I’ve got no idea.
[00:30:16] And I think you’re right.
[00:30:17] Like this idea is nice, but there’s too many missing pieces for me. And also just yes, a convolution as to cause in the beginning I went, hold on. But these dogs were trained to do this. That’s why they’re better than the naive dogs. But then I realized that they were selected because they were good.
[00:30:32] They weren’t necessarily but then they must have been because they said that we searched for dogs that knew the names of their toys. So there has to have been some kind of conditioning behavior for those dogs beforehand to have learned those. So it’s just, you know, so we don’t even, we’re not taking into account the background of these dogs, learning those things.
[00:30:48] Like, Yeah.
[00:30:48] I don’t know.
[00:30:49] David: Yeah, I guess I just, maybe it’s my problem as a biologist. I want things to be done in a much more controlled experimental fashion. And I guess this has to be a little bit on the observational side, just because of the [00:31:00] nature of what they’re trying to do,
[00:31:01] Sophie: Yes. I was gonna say irony a bit. have you heard of clever Hans?
[00:31:05] So clever Hans is a horse. That was I think I can’t remember what it’s called. I don’t know if it’s like the hands Kluger effect, but basically it’s this idea. So apparently there was this horse in Germany that was able to to do, lots of difficult mathematical sums and solve complicated problems. And it turns out that like the horse was actually giving the right answers by watching the reactions of the people who are watching him.
[00:31:27] So it’s this, this idea. And so apparently this pops up a lot. It’s this, it’s used in psychology and it’s used to describe when animals are a person’s sense, what someone wants them to do, even though they’re not deliberately been given those signals, they’re sort of been conditioned to give the right answer and the person who so.
[00:31:43] The person who was giving those signals is
[00:31:45] unaware of it, but they’re actually helping this person achieve the result they want. And so like when I heard that I went, I wonder how much of, you know, people accidentally like head tilting towards the toy? You know, there’s all these things because it’s not done under these controlled situations.
[00:31:59] That just [00:32:00] yet, there are things that worry me, but I think how dogs tilt their heads are adorable. So, um,
[00:32:05] David: Yeah, absolutely adorable, and an it’s definitely interesting findings. I just, yeah, I wanted more, I wanted more Sophie.
[00:32:11] Sophie: we all wanted more Dave and that’s understandable. And, so maybe there will be more, we don’t know.
[00:32:16] David: Okay.
[00:32:19] Sophie: Thanks.