An investigation on social representations: Inanimate agent can mislead dogs (Canis familiaris) in a food choice task

Judit Abdai, Anna Gergely, Eszter Petró, József Topál, Ádám Miklósi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

11 Citations (Scopus)


The nature of mental representation of others plays a crucial role in social interactions. Dogs present an ideal model species for the investigation of such mental representations because they develop social ties with both conspecifics and heterospecifics. Former studies found that dogs' preference for larger food quantity could be reversed by humans who indicate the smaller quantity. The question is whether this social bias is restricted to human partners. We suggest that after a short positive social experience, an unfamiliar moving inanimate agent (UMO) can also change dogs' choice between two food quantities. We tested four groups of dogs with different partners: In the (1) Helper UMO and (2) Helper UMO Control groups the partner was an interactive remote control car that helped the dog to obtain an otherwise unreachable food. In the (3) Non-helper UMO and (4) Human partner groups dogs had restricted interaction with the remote control car and the unfamiliar human partners. In the Human partner, Helper UMO and Helper UMO Control groups the partners were able to revert dogs' choice for the small amount by indicating the small one, but the Non-helper UMO was not. We suggest that dogs are able to generalize their wide range of experiences with humans to another type of agent as well, based on the recognition of similarities in simple behavioural patterns.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0134575
JournalPloS one
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - Aug 4 2015


ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)

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