Ontogeny vs. phylogeny in primate/canid comparisons: a meta-analysis of the object choice task

Hannah Clark, Mahmoud M. Elsherif, David Leavens

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The Object Choice Task (OCT) is a widely used paradigm with which researchers measure the ability of a subject to comprehend deictic (directional) cues, such as pointing gestures and eye gaze. There is a widespread belief that nonhuman primates evince only a weak capacity to use deictic cues; in contrast, domestic dogs (Canis lupus familiaris) tend to demonstrate high success rates. This pattern of canid superiority has been taken to support the Domestication Hypothesis, which posits enhancing effects of artificial selection on the sociocognitive abilities of dogs and humans. Here we review nearly two decades of published findings, using variants of the OCT. We find systematic confounds with species classification in task-relevant preparation of the subjects, in the imposition of a barrier between reward and subject, and in the specific deictic cues used to indicate the location of hidden objects. Thus, the widespread belief that dogs outperform primates on OCTs is undermined by the systematic procedural differences in the assessments of these skills, differences that are confounded with taxonomic classification.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)178-189
JournalNeuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews
Early online date20 Aug 2019
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2019


  • Object choice task
  • Canids
  • Primates
  • Comparative cognition


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