Timmy and Lassie (and Clyde? ): Joint attention effects with humans, dogs, and orangutans


Social cues, particularly eye gaze, have a strong influence upon people and the interaction between humans (joint attention). The purpose of this study was to explore whether the social cues that exist between humans regarding eye gaze and corresponding attention shifts (joint attention) persist when humans observe the gaze shifts of non-human animals. Participants (n=12) performed a localization reaction time task after observing the gaze shifts of three animals: human, dog and, orangutan. Each trial began with a face in a neutral position with the eye gaze directed forward. After presentation of the neutral position, the head rotated and eye gaze shifted to either the right or left. A target appeared on either the right or left side of the space 100, 300, 600, or 1000 ms after the gaze shift. Participants pressed a corresponding left or right key as soon as the target was detected. The analysis of reaction times revealed joint attention effects – reaction times to targets presented at the location of gaze were shorter than reaction times to targets opposite the location of gaze. Interestingly, there were no significant differences in patterns of joint attention across the different animal stimuli (p=0.493). The findings from this study suggest that joint attention can exist between humans and animals, specifically when humans observe the visual gaze of orangutans and dogs. These findings suggest that a dog's and an orangutan's visual gaze have the ability to shift a human's attention, thus allowing humans to engage in joint attention with non-human animals.

Acknowledgments: Joel Sartore Photography Inc.