The act of focusing another’s attention to a certain thing in the environment is known as referential communication. Humans often communicate with one another using gestures and words that relate to a particular item, such as when we point to something we want.
Animals’ ability to demonstrate their interests has garnered much investigation.
According to lead author of new study Paula Pérez Fraga, “Domestic animals seem especially predisposed to referentially communicate with humans”.
However, some domesticated wild animals can also accomplish this, suggesting that domestication may not be necessary for the emergence of this communication skill.
“We noticed that a shared characteristic among these species is that they use many visual signals when communicating with their conspecifics. Could this be a necessary characteristic for animals to engage in referential communication with humans?”
To test this theory, researchers looked at how two types of domesticated companion animals behaved: dogs, which use their eyes a lot for communication, and pigs, which don’t.
Pigs in this study are part of the Family Pig Project, an ongoing study that places tiny pigs with human families to be nurtured in an environment like to that of a family dog. This gives us a unique chance to look at how the two species act around people.
Animals were placed in a room with either their owner, a hidden food reward, or both. The food was accessible to the owner but not the animal.
They anticipated that the animals would use more communicative behaviors to indicate the location of the food when both the owner and the reward were present.
However, the results showed that while both pigs and dogs paid attention to their owners when alone, only dogs attempted to indicate the location of the hidden food when it was present. Pigs simply attempted to obtain the food on their own.
This research suggests that not all housepets share humans’ ability to focus on specific regions.
“We suggest that pigs might lack important characteristics that are crucial for the emergence of this sort of communication,” adds Pérez Fraga
Despite the common belief that dogs are the best communicators, evidence suggests that other animals, including horses, cats, and even kangaroos, are capable of using referential communication with humans. Pigs, on the other hand, don’t.
Image Credit: Getty