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Airdate: Feb 13, 2012
Scientist: Brian Hare

KSC: Animal Smarts - Designing an Experiment

KSC: Animal Smarts - Designing an Experiment
Animal Psychology 101: To understand how an animal thinks, first consider their everyday challenges.

Program #5206

Kids' Science Challenge: Animal Smarts Designing an Experiment

If you're a scientist you come up with ideas, and then you test these ideas with observations and experiments. But how do you design an experiment when you're studying an animal's intelligence? I'm Jim Metzner and this is the Pulse of the Planet.

So how do you study how animals think? We try to first understand what does an animal do in its normal life.

Brian Hare is director of the Canine Cognition Center at Duke University.

What are the problems it has to solve everyday? Because if we can present them to them we can see a lot of intelligence and a lot of flexibility in how it's trying to solve all sorts of problems it encounters.

One problem dogs have to routinely solve is finding something. And observing how they solve this problem leads to an idea for an experiment.

One person could say that when you throw a ball for a dog it actually can remember where it saw the ball go and it can find the ball by using its memory. Other people might say the dog is not remembering where it is. It just runs around randomly and then it smells the ball and then it finds it, okay? Which one is it? Who knows?! That's what we do here is we know it's very important for dogs to find balls because they love to play fetch. So, how does a dog do it? Does it use its nose? Or does it remember? Or maybe it does both. So we try to come up with experiments here in the lab where we would hide things in different ways and we make it impossible for either the dog to smell where something's hidden is therefore they gave to use their memory or we make it so that they can only smell it and they couldn't use their memory. So then we can find out which one is it? Which is the right way that the dog actually solves the problem that we observe them solving naturally.

Brian Hare is one of the scientists participating in the Kids' Science Challenge, our free nationwide competition for 3rd to 6th graders. Check out kidsciencechallenge.com. Pulse of the Planet is made possible by the National Science Foundation.