Is Animal Intelligence Like That of Humans?
similar are the thought processes in animals to those found in
humans? There has been some recent research into this, which
I report on below. As for the photo here, it is me as a chimpanzee.
My wife found a website somewhere that allows users to upload
their photos of and then blend them into the face of a chimp.
It's a nice reminder that we are animals, although since other
animals have never created software like this perhaps we have
On the other hand, we may not be quite as special as we like
to think. Apparently, according to the latest research, lizards
have more creative problem-solving ability than previosuly thought,
and baboons can use analogy. We'll start with a look at the lizards.
It has been generally assumed that higher-level mental abilities
like creatively solving problems is limited to humans and perhaps
a few other mammals (dolphins, apes) and birds (crows and blackbirds).
But Duke University biologists Manuel Leal and Brian J. Powell
discovered that lizards have greater creative problem solving
ability than previously thought. They reported their findings in a recent issue of Biology
Letters, in a paper titled, "Behavioural flexibility and
problem-solving in a tropical lizard." Here is how they
summarized their findings:
This lizard shows behavioural flexibility across multiple
cognitive tasks, including solving a novel motor task using multiple
strategies and reversal learning, as well as rapid associative
learning. This flexibility was unexpected because lizards are
commonly believed to have limited cognitive abilities and highly
stereotyped behaviour. Our findings indicate that the cognitive
abilities of A. evermanni are comparable with those of some endothermic
species that are recognized to be highly flexible, and strongly
suggest a re-thinking of our understanding of the cognitive abilities
of ectothermic tetrapods and of the factors favouring the evolution
of behavioural flexibility.
Tropical lizards in Puerto Rico were the subjects of the study
(species Anolis evermanni). Researchers put worms under blue
discs and watched as the lizards found ways to get to the meal.
A majority of the lizards learned to get to the worm by either
biting the disc or prying it off the surface.
After the researchers added discs of other colors (they had
a yellow edge) the lizards initially continued to search the
blue discs where they presumably expected to find the worms.
But in time two out the six lizards did check out the other discs,
and found the worms there. This was considered an example of
creative problem solving, an ability which is apparently not
limited to birds and mammals.
The Use of Analogy by Baboons
We don't really know
how long humans have been using analogies to understand things.
But the common assumption among linguists and scientists in general
has been that our use of analogy started with the use of language.
And the assumption underlying that one is that language is required
in order to think in terms of analogy. However, shedding knew
light on animal intelligence and the nature of analogy, some
research with baboons says the assumption that language is required
may not be necessary.
(Flickr photo by Ewan Roberts)
This short report on some of the research done with baboons
is from an article on ScienceDaily.com:
A cat takes care of a kitten and a bird feeds fledglings:
although the context is different, these two situations are similar
and we can conclude that both cases involve a mother and its
offspring. For a long time researchers believed that this type
of analogical reasoning was impossible without language and that
it was restricted to humans or, at best, great apes that had
been taught a language. However, two scientists, Joël Fagot
of the Laboratoire de Psychologie Cognitive (CNRS/Université
de Provence) and Roger Thompson of the Franklin & Marshall
College in the United States, have demonstrated that monkeys
are capable of making analogies without language.
The two researchers carried out their experiment on 29
baboons (Papio papio) of variable ages, which could freely perform
the proposed exercise (this represents a large number of animals
for this type of experiment). First of all, the baboons were
shown two geometric shapes on a touch screen, for example two
squares. After they touched one of these shapes, two other pairs
of shapes appeared on the screen, such as: a triangle and a star
for the first pair and two identical ovals for the second pair.
To successfully complete the exercise and be rewarded, the animal
had to touch the pair representing the same relation (of identity
or difference) as the initial pair (here, the two ovals).
In other words, the baboon had to detect relations between
relations, which is the definition of analogy.
Six of the 29 baboons were successful at correctly completing
the task. When researchers did the experiment again a year later,
these baboons re-learned the process more quickly than during
the initial learning period. This, according to the researchers,
suggests that the animals remembered the earlier tests.
It is interesting that baboons can think like humans in some
ways. But then we shouldn't be surprised by that if we spend
much time with our pets or even just watch nature documentaries.
Clearly there are some similarities in how we and other animals
think. What is more interesting (at least to me) is that these
tests seem to show that language is not necessary for the use
of analogy. We sometimes spend so much of our time thinking with
words that we forget there are other ways to think.