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December 22nd, 2009
Web-Exclusive Video: The Human Spark and Man's Best Friend

As we traveled the world searching for clues to the human spark, we focused on research involving our closest genetic relatives, both living (great apes) and extinct (Neanderthals). Some of the biggest surprises we ran across stemmed from the Dog Lab at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany.

In this video, Alan Alda meets with scientist Juliane Kaminski and a very smart dog named C.J. Juliane and her colleagues investigate canines’ cognitive abilities and find that dogs have some talents our much closer relatives the chimpanzees don’t. Dogs don’t share nearly as close a genetic link with us, but they do have one advantage – thousands of years of domestication, living in close quarters with human beings.

What do you think these dogs’ talents imply about the human spark?

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  • Joanne Tanner

    Are you excepting bonobos from the comment about chimpanzees? What about the bonobo Kanzi’s ability not only to bring back objects solely from hearing the verbal name but to act upon them in a certain way or look in a certain place?

  • julie finton

    *According to Sue Savage Rumbaugh’s research with both Bonobos and Chimps, a chimp can distinguish between “Go to the other room and get me the ball” and “Get me the ball that’s in the other room”: If there happens to be another ball closer by, visible in the same room where the chimp already is, upon hearing the first request the chimp will retrieve the handier ball instead about 50% of the time, whereas in response to the second request, which leaves no ambiguity as to which ball the speaker wants, the chimp will retrieve the ball from the “other room” over 90% of the time. These commands are also given over speakers so no visual cues are available to the chimps at all.
    *I think the dog is very smart, but why make sloppy inferences about chimps? In the video I saw in which a chimp was ignoring a human prompter’s pointing and eye gestures (which the dog cued into every time) it was clear from the affect of both animals that that dog had a much better relationship with the human testers than the captive laboratory chimp did. It is likely that the chimp was not inclined to trust the humans to point out the true location of the treat. Chimps are great dissimulators and it is possible this chimp made assumptions about the human’s intentions that a dog would not likely make. The testers felt the results proved that chimps cannot respond to human communication as well as dogs. Nonsense!

  • Happyang

    I have a question about ur experiment in “So Human,So Chimp”.U asked the chimp and kids to pull the box.But i’m thinking about a question:kids r taught to be more logical by their parents and society,they r socialized.Their acquired behavior is different from chimp.So how can u do this experiment?Basically,I think what we need to know is the innate difference between us and cther animals.One more question,can if other species like chimp be socialized in human society,will they be like us?

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