Dogs (canis familiaris) underestimate the quantity of connected items: first demonstration of susceptibility to the connectedness illusion in non-human animals

Miina Lõoke, Lieta Marinelli, Christian Agrillo, Cécile Guérineau, Paolo Mongillo (2021) Scientific Reports


In humans, numerical estimation is affected by perceptual biases, such as those originating from the spatial arrangement of elements. Different animal species can also make relative quantity judgements. This includes dogs, who have been proposed as a good model for comparative neuroscience. However, dogs do not show the same perceptual biases observed in humans. Thus, the exact perceptual/cognitive mechanisms underlying quantity estimations in dogs and their degree of similarity with humans are still a matter of debate. Here we explored whether dogs are susceptible to the connectedness illusion, an illusion based on the tendency to underestimate the quantity of interconnected items. Dogs were first trained to choose the larger of two food arrays. Then, they were presented with two arrays containing the same quantity of food, of which one had items interconnected by lines. Dogs significantly selected the array with unconnected items, suggesting that, like in humans, connectedness determines underestimation biases, possibly disrupting the perceptual system’s ability to segment the display into discrete objects. The similarity in dogs’ and humans’ susceptibility to the connectedness, but not to other numerical illusions, suggests that different mechanisms are involved in the estimation of quantity of stimuli with different characteristics.

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