“Every animal knows more than you do.” — Native American Proverb
Animal cognition as a serious study is relatively new to the scientific world, however, has been a question queried since early human thought. For long, animals have been seen as somewhat automated instinctual beings without higher cognitive ability. This is a clear mistake as we continue to discover more about the brain and behaviour of non-human creatures. This video will take a brief look at animal intelligence.
Intelligence is not simply displayed in a few key species but in many. The use of tools, for example, is not limited to great apes but can be seen in other mammals, birds, fish and invertebrates.Mammals and some birds have displayed problem-solving skills that require two or more individuals to work together to solve. Some even outsmarting young children. Many animals have been declared self-aware, being able to immediately recognise themselves in mirrors. But among the too many examples to list, my favourite remains the fact that some great apes have been taught sign language to communicate with those that study them. Literally crossing the boundary of language between man and animal. But how do we study these amazing displays of intelligence?
Multiple scientific fields are related to the study of animal cognition. This primarily includes comparative psychology, behavioural ecology, ethology, neuroscience, evolutionary psychology and more. Each field brings with it unique methods and findings, helping build a more clear picture of the animal thought process. The academic community credits C. Lloyd Morgan, a British psychologist of the 19th century as the first to truly question animal cognition as being more than simple instinctual or automated behaviours.
Morgan argued that approaching animal behaviour from an anthropomorphic perspective is detrimental to its study and that animals should be considered to act with purpose, individualism and rationality. This theory was placed under heavy scrutiny by the academic community and deemed as naive observations with other factors determining behaviour. This field continued to grow slowly until the 1960's when the so-called "cognitive revolution" occurred in the study of human psychology. This revolution slowly trickled into the field of animal cognition, growing it into the massive field it is today.
The study of animal cognition has raised a multitude of research questions and methodologies. Some of the questions relate to the following. Perception, Attention, Concepts & Categories, Memory, Spatial Cognition, Timing, Tool Use, Problem Solving, Cognitive Bias, Language, Insight, Numeracy, General Intelligence, Theory of Mind, Consciousness and more. I highly recommend looking into the findings of these questions as it will reveal the amazing intelligence that even unexpected creatures have.
Besides the study of behavioural patterns in animals, physiological and neurological factors also play a major role. One factor of which includes what is known as the Encephalisation Quotient or EQ. This refers primarily to the relative brain to body mass of the animal, also taking into account other physiological features. Following are example averages of the EQ hierarchy from high to low as stated by Gerhard Roth and Ursula Dicke. 7.4 - 7.8 Humans 4.1 - 4.5 Dolphin 2.5 - 3.3 Orca 2.2 - 2.5 Chimpanzee 1.1 - 2.4 Elephant 1.2 Dog 1.1 Squirrel 1.00 Cat 0.9 Horse 0.8 Sheep 0.4 Rabbit
As you can see, primates (especially apes), Cetacea (Dolphins, Whales, Porpoises) and Proboscidea (elephants) are the animals with the highest EQ. This method is criticised as some argue that the evolution of the cerebral cortex, folding of the brain and cognitive energy use is not accounted for properly. Birds, for example, show a low score on the EQ scale even though some display remarkable intelligence. While a jumping spider has a massive brain to body ratio, however, do not meet the requirements of higher cognitive ability through standard methodology at least.
It is clear that many animals display a capability for higher cognition. This field will continue to shed light on the world of animal intelligence and perhaps even one-day admit to their individual consciousness. Hopefully, this will lead to a better treatment and relationship with the beings we share our planet with.