Friday, December 26, 2014
PLACERVILLE, CALIFORNIA
99 CENTS

Rock doc: The world of pointing

By
November 13, 2013 |

I don’t know the full heritage of my mutt from the pound, Buster Brown by name. Buster was listed as a “Lab mix” by the Humane Society but my vet has said he is more of a German shepherd mix. We all can agree he’s a mongrel — indeed, one or both of his parents may have been mutts themselves.
When he was young there were a couple of occasions when Buster froze and seemed to point toward the wildlife we encountered as we ambled along the bottom of the Snake River canyon. It’s impressive when a young dog, full of wild amounts of energy, stops in his tracks and points. I don’t know how we bred that into some dogs, but it’s an impressive trick.
People, of course, are good at pointing. Babies learn to point to what they want quite early.
“If you don’t get that they’re drawing your attention to an object, they’ll get cross,” said Richard W. Byrne recently in The New York Times. Byrne is a biologist at the University of St. Andrews.
Most animals don’t seem to understand pointing. The matter is fairly easy to test: you can put food into one of two identical containers, set them in front of an animal, and point to the one with the food in it. If the animal checks the containers at random (with a 50-50 split between the buckets) then it isn’t getting the point of the pointing.
Understanding pointing apparently takes some sophistication. Even chimpanzees, who are smart cookies in many ways, don’t “get it” when it comes to pointing.
Buster might be pleased to know that domesticated dogs do well on the pointing test. That’s right, dogs do better than chimps — the closest relatives to us humans.
Recently Prof. Byrne and his graduate student Anna Smet published their results from doing the pointing test with elephants. As reported recently in the New York Times, Smet went to Zimbabwe where a company called Wild Horizons gave her access to 11 elephants. She did the pointing test using fruit in buckets, pointing to the container with the food while standing between the two buckets.
It was easy to record which bucket the elephant first stuck its trunk in. The elephants picked the right bucket 67.5 percent of the time. That’s not bad – human babies score around 73 percent.
Smet didn’t document any learning on the part of the elephants. That is, the animals didn’t get better over time, learning that she was pointing to the bucket with the food. Buster, I am sure, would learn in any similar test — food really motivates him and he picks up on things around my house without formal instruction.
Everyone knows about dogs and the type of intelligence they display. But this research on elephants is new. It makes some investigators think elephants have a deeply social kind of intelligence.
There remains another question for elephant research. Do the giant pachyderms themselves ever point? In a herd of wild elephants, are there occasions to point, say with a long and handy trunk?
Stay tuned.
Dr. E. Kirsten Peters, a native of the rural Northwest, was trained as a geologist at Princeton and Harvard. This column is a service of the College of Agricultural, Human, and Natural Resource Sciences at Washington State University.

Comments

Subscription Required

Thank you for reading the MtDemocrat.com digital edition. In order to continue reading this story please choose one of the following options.

Current Subscribers
If you are a current subscriber and wish to obtain access to MtDemocrat.com, please select the Subscriber Verification option below. If you already have a login, please select "Login" at the lower right corner of this box.

Subscriber Verification

Special Introductory Offer
For a short time we will be offering a discount to those who call us in order to obtain access to MtDemocrat.com and start your print subscription. Our customer support team will be standing by Monday through Friday, 8am to 5pm to assist you.

Call and Save! (530) 344-5000

If you are not a current subscriber and wish not to take advantage of our special introductory offer, please select the $12 monthly option below to obtain access to MtDemocrat.com and start your online subscription

Help?

E. Kirsten Peters

  • Recent Posts

  • Enter your email address to subscribe and receive notifications of new posts by email.

  • .

    News

     
    Tahoe KFC robbed

    By Cole Mayer | From Page: A1

     
    Cal Fire gives toys to New Morning Shelter

    By Cole Mayer | From Page: A1 | Gallery

     
    EID honored for transparency by Leadership Foundation

    By Mary Lynn Carlton | From Page: A3

     
    Holiday DUI campaign nets arrest

    By News Release | From Page: A8

    SLT Fire launching new STAT program

    By News Release | From Page: A10

     
    Water rights law celebrates its 100th anniversary

    Press Release | From Page: A11

    Not too late for flu vaccination

    By Health and Human Services Agency | From Page: A12

     
    .

    Opinion

     
    Rein in IRS

    By Mountain Democrat | From Page: A4

    Something to think about: Day of Wonder

    By Wendy Schultz | From Page: A4

     
    .

    Letters

    Moral outrage over the hypocrisy

    By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A5

     
    Supes cut elected salaries

    By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A5

    Attention all veterans

    By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A5

     
    .

    Sports

    Free throws decide game for Lady Bruins

    By Mike Bush | From Page: A6

     
    First and goal: Football fantasy comes true

    By Mike Bush | From Page: A6

    Trojans come on to take Toss Up title

    By Jerry Heinzer | From Page: A6 | Gallery

     
    One more time for county grid players

    By Democrat Staff | From Page: A6

    Roundup: Dec. 24, 2014

    By Democrat Staff | From Page: A7

     
    Oak Ridge graduate named UAV coach

    By News Release | From Page: A7

    Former Cougars return for alumni game

    By Jerry Heinzer | From Page: A7

     
    .

    Prospecting

    Tibetan Monks’ January schedule

    By News Release | From Page: B1

     
    Tibetan Monks return to county

    By Tripp Mikich | From Page: B1 | Gallery

    Things to do: Dec. 26, 2014

    By Democrat Calendar | From Page: B2

     
    Paula Vance creates heavenly music

    By Pat Lakey | From Page: B2 | Gallery

    Visit Smokey Joe’s Café

    By Harris Center for the Arts | From Page: B3

     
    MontBleu begins major renovations

    By Montbleu | From Page: B4

    SnowGlobe fuses music and snow

    By News Release | From Page: B4

     
    Hard Rock Hotel and Casino transformation underway

    By Hark Rock Hotel And Casino | From Page: B5

    Anniversary: Earl and Brenda Woods

    By Democrat Staff | From Page: B6 | Gallery

     
    Life as I know it: Queuing up

    By Robert F. Boggus | From Page: B7

     
    .

    Essentials

    Crime Log: Nov 26-28

    By Cole Mayer | From Page: A2

     
    Lake levels 12-24-14

    By Michael Raffety | From Page: A2

    .

    Obituaries

    Vivian Frohreich funeral notice

    By Contributor | From Page: A2

     
    Ronald Lawrence Green

    By Contributor | From Page: A2

    Barbara “Barb” Dorr

    By Contributor | From Page: A2

     
    .

    Real Estate

    No place like home for the holidays

    By Ken Calhoon | From Page: HS2

     
    Home and life lessons learned in 2014

    By Marni Jameson | From Page: HS3

     
    Sunny Gerabaldi has room for a big family

    Press Release | From Page: HS6

     
     
    .

    Comics

    Shoe

    By Contributor | From Page: A9

     
    Sudoku

    By Contributor | From Page: A9

    Rubes

    By Contributor | From Page: A9

     
    Long Story Short

    By Contributor | From Page: A9

    TV Listings

    By Contributor | From Page: A9

     
    Speed Bump

    By Contributor | From Page: A9

    Tundra

    By Contributor | From Page: A9

     
    Horoscope, Saturday, December 27, 2014

    By Contributor | From Page: A10

    Horoscope, Friday, December 26, 2014

    By Contributor | From Page: A10

     
    New York Times Crossword

    By Contributor | From Page: A10

    Horoscope, Sunday, December 28, 2014

    By Contributor | From Page: A10

     
    .

    Home Source

    No place like home for the holidays

    By Ken Calhoon | From Page: HS2

    Home and life lessons learned in 2014

    By Marni Jameson | From Page: HS3

    Sunny Gerabaldi has room for a big family

    Press Release | From Page: HS6