(Image via AP Photo/The Herald-Palladium, Don Campbell)
In a move that researcher Dr. Rosalind Arden says could have “far-reaching implications for understanding human health and disease,” scientists from the London School of Economics and the University of Edinburgh set out to understand the link between intelligence and health by studying … dogs.
Per the Independent, 68 border collies performed a series of cognitive tasks (a “dog IQ” test, if you will), and scientists found not only did dogs who did well on one task tend to also have high performance on others, but that canines also develop dementia in a way similar to their two-legged owners—meaning study findings could potentially be applied to humans as well, notes Phys.org.
Scientists carrying out the study, published in the Intelligence journal, had the dogs—whom a press release refers to as “Mensa mutts"—tested on navigational skills, how quickly they could find hidden food, if they could gauge differences in food quantities, and how well they could follow a human pointing gesture.
The dogs who performed above average on one test not only performed well on others—they also tended to complete the tests faster. "Just as people vary in their problem-solving abilities, so do dogs, even within one breed,” Arden says. “This is significant because in humans there is a small but measureable tendency for people who are brighter to be healthier and live longer.” Which could eventually help figure out the true tie-in between intelligence and health, with so-called “dognitive epidemiology” perhaps even leading to treatments for dementia in humans.
Why it may have been easier to conduct an intelligence test on dogs than on humans: Researchers didn’t have to control for “confounding” factors such as lifestyle choices (e.g., smoking) and socioeconomic status. Plus, “dogs are excellent for this kind of work because they are willing to participate and seem to enjoy taking part,” a University of Edinburgh research fellow tells Phys.org. (This dog reportedly learned a toddler-level vocabulary.)
By Jenn Gidman