Do domestic dogs (Canis lupus familiaris) perceive the Delboeuf illusion?

Anim Cogn. 2017 May;20(3):427-434. doi: 10.1007/s10071-016-1066-2. Epub 2016 Dec 20.


In the last decade, visual illusions have been repeatedly used as a tool to compare visual perception among species. Several studies have investigated whether non-human primates perceive visual illusions in a human-like fashion, but little attention has been paid to other mammals, and sensitivity to visual illusions has been never investigated in the dog. Here, we studied whether domestic dogs perceive the Delboeuf illusion. In human and non-human primates, this illusion creates a misperception of item size as a function of its surrounding context. To examine this effect in dogs, we adapted the spontaneous preference paradigm recently used with chimpanzees. Subjects were presented with two plates containing food. In control trials, two different amounts of food were presented in two identical plates. In this circumstance, dogs were expected to select the larger amount. In test trials, equal food portion sizes were presented in two plates differing in size: if dogs perceived the illusion as primates do, they were expected to select the amount of food presented in the smaller plate. Dogs significantly discriminated the two alternatives in control trials, whereas their performance did not differ from chance in test trials with the illusory pattern. The fact that dogs do not seem to be susceptible to the Delboeuf illusion suggests a potential discontinuity in the perceptual biases affecting size judgments between primates and dogs.

Keywords: Canine; Comparative perception; Quantity discrimination; Visual illusions.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Choice Behavior
  • Dogs / physiology*
  • Female
  • Food
  • Male
  • Optical Illusions / physiology*
  • Size Perception*