A simple but powerful test of perseverative search in dogs and toddlers

András Péter, Anna Gergely, József Topál, Ádám Miklósi, Péter Pongrácz
Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology: QJEP 2015, 68 (5): 940-51
Perseverative (A-not-B) errors during the search of a hidden object were recently described in both dogs and 10-month-old infants. It was found that ostensive cues indicating a communicative intent of the person who hides the object played a major role in eliciting perseverative errors in both species. However, the employed experimental set-up gave rise to several alternative explanations regarding the source of these errors. Here we present a simplified protocol that eliminates the ambiguities present in the original design. Using five consecutive object hiding events to one of two locations in a fixed order ("AABBA"), we tested adult companion dogs and human children (24 months old). The experimenter performed the hiding actions while giving ostensive cues in each trial and moved the target object to the given location in a straight line. Our results show that in the B trials, both 24-month-old children and dogs could not reliably find the hidden object, and their performance in the first B trials was significantly below that of any of the A trials. These results are the first to show that the tendency for perseverative errors in an ostensive-communicative context is a robust phenomenon among 2-year-old children and dogs, and not the by-product of a topographically elaborate hiding event.

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