Social Cognition

  • A black-and-white Boston terrier named Chevy, as sleek and dapper as a seal in a tuxedo, trots crisply into the soundproof testing room. His jaunty confidence will fade quickly as a team of researchers subjects him to a series of psychological experiments that will daunt, dismay, and ultimately baffle him. Poor Chevy is about to be gaslit for the sake of science. This spiffy little terrier is volunteer number one on day number one of an ambitious project launched by Harvard University evolutionary neuroscientist Erin Hecht to answer basic questions about what dogs do and why they do it. She plans to collect data on the psychology and behavior of hundreds of them across all breeds over many years: how easily they make friends, how well they behave, how they feel about vacuum cleaners. Four video cameras document Chevy’s reactions to an experimenter’s precisely scripted maneuvers. From a reception room next door, the rest of Hecht’s team watches through a one-way mirror.