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  • [♪ INTRO]

  • Any dog owner is happy to tell you just how strong

  • the bond between person and pup can be.

  • They'll follow you around, look to you for cues on what to do and, hopefully,

  • listen when you call them.

  • Some of that can come down to training, but it turns out puppies are actually born

  • with a lot of their ability to interact with people.

  • And a study published online this week in the journal Current Biology shows

  • just how tuned in pups are to us.

  • The study took 375 Golden Retriever, Labrador, or Lab-Golden mix puppies

  • who were bred as part of a service dog program in the US,

  • and ran them through a battery of cognitive and behavioral tests.

  • To test their ability to follow social cues,

  • they recorded whether an untrained puppy could follow where a person was

  • gesturing to get a food reward hidden under one of two cups.

  • The experimenter would saypuppy lookand then either point, look at,

  • or place a block next to the cup with the food.

  • And pups picked the right cup more often when a person gestured,

  • compared to when the puppy was just let loose to search for the food on their own

  • even controlling for their sense of smell.

  • The puppies also didn't get any better the more they did the task,

  • showing that whatever ability they had to tune in to a person was there from the very beginning

  • they didn't learn it as part of the experiment.

  • In another experiment to test how puppies interacted with people,

  • the pups first learned how to knock a lid off a container to get some food.

  • Then the lid was locked in place, making it unopenable.

  • When they couldn't solve the task on their own,

  • some of the pups would look at the human, presumably for help.

  • But only if the experimenter talked to them

  • in a high-pitched, sing-songy, puppy voice.

  • So it seemed like the human needed to initiate communication.

  • But what was really interesting about the new study was that researchers

  • showed that this ability came down to genetics -- at least, partly.

  • See, since the pups were purebred, the researchers could track their breeding history

  • and work out how much of the variation in their abilities was inherited.

  • They do this by comparing how related puppies are to one another,

  • while controlling for factors in their environment.

  • Depending on the test, they estimated that as much as

  • 43% of communication ability is heritable.

  • That means that on average across the group,

  • almost half of the variability in communication is related to genes.

  • Now, aside from puppies making amazingly cute study subjects,

  • this research actually tells us a lot about dog intelligence.

  • It shows us that as we domesticated dogs from wolves,

  • we probably picked animals to breed that were good at communicating with us.

  • And that they were born with that ability -- we didn't even have to train it.

  • Researchers now hope to identify different genes

  • that match up to these different communication abilities.

  • See, heritability estimates are just the beginning.

  • They don't tell you anything in detail about what causes the different traits

  • in this case a puppy's communication ability.

  • They'll also follow up to see if their results predict whether a puppy

  • will actually graduate from the service dog program.

  • And understanding both the genetic and environmental influences on dog behavior

  • might help them identify and breed service dogs

  • who are better at communicating with us in the future.

  • Now in other animal-ability news, songbirds might be telepathic

  • Sort of.

  • Plain-tailed wrens are known for their in-sync duets

  • where males and females sing together with such perfect coordination,

  • that they almost sound like just one bird.

  • They go back and forth with their chirps incredibly fast

  • between two and five times per second.

  • At that speed, birds need to time their turns exactly right.

  • And now, thanks to a study in the journal PNAS,

  • biologists understand a bit better how they get so in sync.

  • They measured brain activity using wires implanted in the wrens' brains.

  • In particular they wanted to see what was going on with neurons in an area

  • called the high vocal center, or HVC for short.

  • This area of birds' brains has previously been tied to making music.

  • The researchers recorded what their brains were doing

  • either as the birds sang in their duets, or when each bird sang alone.

  • As expected, when the birds were singing,

  • either alone or in their pair, neurons in that area fired.

  • But when their partner was singing, activity in the HVC was dampened down.

  • And that meant the bird was quiet until it was their turn to sing again.

  • But the researchers think they weren't just waiting

  • that this neural dampening was an important part of the joint performance.

  • To really put this theory to the test, researchers temporarily anesthetized the birds.

  • The anesthetic drug blocked a brain signalling molecule called GABA,

  • which dampens brain activity.

  • So the drug was essentially blocking the blocking.

  • Then, they played the anesthetized birds recordings of their own duets.

  • Instead of going quiet, those same neurons would fire.

  • And it seemed to be related

  • to whether the male or female part in the duet was playing.

  • Which suggests that the birds are sort of hitting mute in their own brains

  • when it's not their turn to sing.

  • This study not only shows how wrens can control the timing

  • of their songs so precisely, but it also tells us something about our own brains.

  • Songbirds aren't the only creatures who coordinate their vocalizations.

  • We do the same whenever we're singing our own duets,

  • or even just having a conversation.

  • The authors of the study say there are similar GABA circuits in our brains,

  • which might help us decide when to take turns talking.

  • They say it could even help explain why video calls are so frustrating.

  • Our brains don't know how to sync up with the other person,

  • since the sound cues we're getting are delayed.

  • But whether it's explaining the awkwardness we've been living out recently,

  • or just how these birds get their Hall and Oates on,

  • you've got to admit the little guys have some talent.

  • But what if you're listening to music

  • or watching a show that's restricted by location?

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  • [♪ OUTRO]

This episode is sponsored by Surfshark.

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B1 US puppy ability scishow study communication sync

These Adorable Puppies Were Born Smart | SciShow News

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    joey joey posted on 2021/06/05
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