Dogs are not better than humans at detecting coherent motion

Mongillo P, Scandurra A, Kramer R, Marinelli L (2017)
Animal Cognition, 5:881–890


The ability to perceive motion is one of the main properties of the visual system. Sensitivity in detecting coherent motion has been thoroughly investigated in humans, where thresholds for motion detection are well below 10% of coherence, i.e. of the proportion of dots coherently moving in the same direction, among a background of randomly moving dots. Equally low thresholds have been found in other species, including monkeys, cats and seals. Given the lack of data from the domestic dog, we tested 5 adult dogs on a conditioned discrimination task with random dot displays. In addition, five adult humans were tested in the same condition for comparative purposes. The mean threshold for motion detection in our dogs was 42% of coherence, while that of humans was as low as 5%. Therefore, dogs have a much higher threshold of coherent motion detection than humans, and possibly also than phylogenetically closer species that have been tested in similar experimental conditions. Various factors, including the relative role of global and local motion processing and experience with the experimental stimuli may have contributed to this result. Overall, this finding questions the general claim on dogs’ high performance in detecting motion.

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