When Bunny, TikTok’s beloved talking Sheepadoodle, stared at herself in a mirror and asked, “Who is that?” Many were using the buttons on their AAC (Augmentative and Alternative Communication) device believing that she was having an existential crisis. Since then, the bitch, famous on the internet, has apparently only been interested in her own self-confidence.
More recently, Alexis Devine, Bunny’s human parent, posted a video on April 24 of Bunny pressing a button for “dog,” then a second button for “what,” a third button for “dog,” and a fourth button for ” Is “. “” “Dog what is dog?” Devine told.
“This happens so often that I’m going to add the” Animal, “” Same “, and” Different “buttons,” wrote Devine in the caption that came with the Instagram post.
The dog bunny, which has 6.5 million followers on TikTok, is one of nearly 2,600 dogs and 300 cats participating in a project called “They Can Talk”. The aim of the study is to understand whether animals can communicate with humans using AAC systems. AAC systems like Bunny’s giant labeled buttons that speak a single word when pressed were originally designed to help people with communication disorders. However, they have been adapted for language experiments with animals, such as the study Bunny is participating in and led by Federico Rossano, director of the Comparative Cognition Lab at the University of California – San Diego.
In Rossano’s study, participants are given instructions on how to set up their AAC buttons for their pets. In general, pets start with simple words like “outside” and “play”. Pet parents set up cameras to constantly monitor the animals when they are in front of their boards. This data is sent to the laboratory for the researchers to study what they are saying.
Now, Bunny’s followers are obsessed with the idea that their language learning will lead them to develop some sort of self-esteem. Is that possible?
And if so, does learning the language have anything to do with it?
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“The question here is, is this behavior that has been trained – like, look, I’m going to show you this person, that’s ‘you’ or ‘dog’ and don’t be afraid of it and then the dog learns that over time “said Rossano to Salon. “Or to what extent is it spontaneous?”
If it’s spontaneous, research around canine ethology could get really interesting. Scientific knowledge has previously shown that dogs do not recognize themselves in the mirror. The so-called mirror test is used to determine whether an animal has the ability to visual self-recognition and is considered a marker of intelligence in animals. Elephants, chimpanzees, and dolphins are some of the animals that passed the test, but dogs typically don’t.
This could indicate that dogs have a lack of self-awareness. However, separate studies have shown that dogs can recognize their own scent, suggesting the opposite.
Péter Pongrácz, PhD, associate professor at the Institute of Ethology at Eötvös Loránd University in Budapest, Hungary, was curious as to whether the standard mirror test was enough to determine whether or not dogs have “self-expression” – which, as Pongrácz explained, it is what ethologists prefer to refer to as “self-confidence” in animals. This curiosity led Pongrácz and a team of researchers to examine the “self-expression” of dogs in a test called “the body as an obstacle”. As a behavioral test, the dogs were asked to pick up an object and give it to their owners while standing on a small mat. However, the object was attached to the mat, forcing the dogs to leave the mat in order to lift the object.
“Dogs came off the mat more often and earlier in the test state than in the main control state, in which the object was attached to the floor,” the researchers write in an article published in the journal Scientific Reports published by Nature. “This is the first convincing evidence of body awareness through understanding the consequences of one’s own actions in a species that has not previously been found to be capable of higher order self-representation.”
Pongrácz emailed Salon that the “body as an obstacle test” was better suited for dogs, and theoretically it might be suitable for more species, as the animals would then be forced to “face physical challenges where their bodies were theirs Can hinder actions “. Pongrácz added that mental performance was “complicated” and should be viewed as something made up of “several building blocks”.
“Dogs are large-body, fast-moving animals that live in complex environments and have well-developed cognitive capacities. So it was reasonable to assume that they would benefit from understanding that they have a ‘body’, who can interact with the environment, “said Pongrácz.
“When our test proved this, we can say that dogs are body conscious, and since body awareness is part of the complex system of self-representation, they can be considered self-conscious,” he added.
As an online viewer watching her, it’s hard to deny that Bunny doesn’t get any more curious about “dogs” since she was recorded walking to her word board and pressing “dog” and then “what”. Another time she asked “dog” and then “why”, which people might interpret as asking why she is a dog. Devine says on Instagram that this type of survey now takes place “regularly”.
But as Rossano said, the hard part is figuring out what learned behavior is and what Bunny is doing herself. And that’s a different question than whether the AAC device has affected your confidence. After all, as Pongrácz said, mental performance consists of building blocks; Language can only be one more block.
“I think there’s good reason to believe that Bunny is likely able to feel herself and see herself in the mirror, but to what extent is spontaneous or learned from repeated exposures I’d say it’s more like that the latter than the latter is the former, “said Rossano, adding that” self-esteem “initially in the” They Can Talk “study was not interested in measuring. But now that has changed.
“We know that language not only helps with communicating with others, but also helps with categorization and gives us a sense of consistency and continuity over time,” said Rossano. In other words, self-awareness and language could be linked as language gives the ability to communicate a sense of self.
Rossano said a new, central concern of his study is whether or not dogs have a sense of the past, present, and future.
“The fact that Bunny is asking some of these questions is interesting – but whether Bunny fully understands what ‘why’ means could be tested in phase three,” he said. “From now on I can say that there are good connections that she might understand, but I wouldn’t want to bet my career on it.”