Good social skills make animals smarter

first_img Country * Afghanistan Aland Islands Albania Algeria Andorra Angola Anguilla Antarctica Antigua and Barbuda Argentina Armenia Aruba Australia Austria Azerbaijan Bahamas Bahrain Bangladesh Barbados Belarus Belgium Belize Benin Bermuda Bhutan Bolivia, Plurinational State of Bonaire, Sint Eustatius and Saba Bosnia and Herzegovina Botswana Bouvet Island Brazil British Indian Ocean Territory Brunei Darussalam Bulgaria Burkina Faso Burundi Cambodia Cameroon Canada Cape Verde Cayman Islands Central African Republic Chad Chile China Christmas Island Cocos (Keeling) Islands Colombia Comoros Congo Congo, the Democratic Republic of the Cook Islands Costa Rica Cote d’Ivoire Croatia Cuba Curaçao Cyprus Czech Republic Denmark Djibouti Dominica Dominican Republic Ecuador Egypt El Salvador Equatorial Guinea Eritrea Estonia Ethiopia Falkland Islands (Malvinas) Faroe Islands Fiji Finland France French Guiana French Polynesia French Southern Territories Gabon Gambia Georgia Germany Ghana Gibraltar Greece Greenland Grenada Guadeloupe Guatemala Guernsey Guinea Guinea-Bissau Guyana Haiti Heard Island and McDonald Islands Holy See (Vatican City State) Honduras Hungary Iceland India Indonesia Iran, Islamic Republic of Iraq Ireland Isle of Man Israel Italy Jamaica Japan Jersey Jordan Kazakhstan Kenya Kiribati Korea, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Republic of Kuwait Kyrgyzstan Lao People’s Democratic Republic Latvia Lebanon Lesotho Liberia Libyan Arab Jamahiriya Liechtenstein Lithuania Luxembourg Macao Macedonia, the former Yugoslav Republic of Madagascar Malawi Malaysia Maldives Mali Malta Martinique Mauritania Mauritius Mayotte Mexico Moldova, Republic of Monaco Mongolia Montenegro Montserrat Morocco Mozambique Myanmar Namibia Nauru Nepal Netherlands New Caledonia New Zealand Nicaragua Niger Nigeria Niue Norfolk Island Norway Oman Pakistan Palestine Panama Papua New Guinea Paraguay Peru Philippines Pitcairn Poland Portugal Qatar Reunion Romania Russian Federation Rwanda Saint Barthélemy Saint Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha Saint Kitts and Nevis Saint Lucia Saint Martin (French part) Saint Pierre and Miquelon Saint Vincent and the Grenadines Samoa San Marino Sao Tome and Principe Saudi Arabia Senegal Serbia Seychelles Sierra Leone Singapore Sint Maarten (Dutch part) Slovakia Slovenia Solomon Islands Somalia South Africa South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands South Sudan Spain Sri Lanka Sudan Suriname Svalbard and Jan Mayen Swaziland Sweden Switzerland Syrian Arab Republic Taiwan Tajikistan Tanzania, United Republic of Thailand Timor-Leste Togo Tokelau Tonga Trinidad and Tobago Tunisia Turkey Turkmenistan Turks and Caicos Islands Tuvalu Uganda Ukraine United Arab Emirates United Kingdom United States Uruguay Uzbekistan Vanuatu Venezuela, Bolivarian Republic of Vietnam Virgin Islands, British Wallis and Futuna Western Sahara Yemen Zambia Zimbabwe Click to view the privacy policy. Required fields are indicated by an asterisk (*) Using tools doesn’t make humans, dolphins, and crows smart. Rather, it’s the stress and challenge of living with others—recognizing friend from foe, calculating who to deceive and who to befriend—that led these and other social creatures to evolve their cognitive skills. That’s the gist of the social intelligence hypothesis, an idea that’s been around since 1966. But does having to remember whose lice need picking actually improve other mental abilities, like figuring out how to open a locked box with a hunk of meat inside? A new study of four carnivores—two social and two solitary species—suggests that it does.“They’ve taken an important issue and tested it in a simple but novel way,” says Richard Byrne, an evolutionary psychologist at The University of St. Andrews in the United Kingdom, who was not involved in the study. “The results are clear: The cognitive benefit from being a social carnivore does transfer” to a mental ability that has nothing to do with being social, he says.Other researchers think the results aren’t as clear-cut. “It is important and a valuable stepping stone in our quest to understand how intelligence evolved, but like all studies, it is one piece of a larger puzzle,” says Sarah Benson-Amram, a zoologist at the University of Wyoming in Laramie, whose recent comparative study of 39 species of carnivores reached the opposite conclusion. Sign up for our daily newsletter Get more great content like this delivered right to you! Countrycenter_img Email Scientists devised the social intelligence hypothesis to explain the evolution of the human brain. They’ve found that most social species (from chimpanzees to social wasps) have relatively large brains and are cognitively sophisticated, adept at experiments designed to test their smarts. But some researchers argue that another factor—a challenging environment—may also stimulate cognitive evolution. If so, then more solitary species could also be large-brained and smart thanks to the ecological difficulties they face.“I thought that carnivores offered a good way to test these two hypotheses,” says Natalia Borrego, who was a behavioral ecologist at the University of Miami in Florida at the time the study was conducted and the study’s lead author. She notes that the species she and her University of Miami colleague, Michael Gaines, selected to study are related, but socially distinct. All are in the family Carnivora. The spotted hyenas (Crocuta crocuta) have hierarchical societies similar to those of primates; lions (Panthera leo) live in egalitarian prides with as many as 21 members; whereas tigers (P. tigris) and leopards (P. pardus) lead more solitary lives, except when females have young or when males and females meet to mate. The four species also pursue widely distributed prey in similar patchy and challenging habitats, and they need flexible hunting strategies. Yet lions and hyenas typically cooperate with their own kind to bring home the bacon, whereas leopards and tigers hunt alone.To find out which, if any, of these carnivores were better at solving a problem they’d never previously encountered, Borrego devised a large, rectangular box of marine-grade polymer that could be opened only by pulling a rope away from the box at a 180° angle. The rope was attached to a spring latch. She baited the box with raw meat, and she drilled holes in the box’s sides so that the prize could be seen and smelled.Between May 2012 and May 2015, Borrego placed the box inside the outdoor enclosures of the four species at wildlife sanctuaries, parks, and zoos in Florida and South Africa. Each animal, other than the hyenas, encountered the box alone and for three 10-minute trials. Because of constraints at the hyena facilities, one to four animals were tested at a time. To ensure the carnivores were motivated, none were fed for 24 hours before the experiment. They could use either their mouths or paws to open the box. “I wasn’t sure if they would even approach it,” Borrego says, because many animals regard novel items as dangerous.She tested 48 individuals and found that the social animals—hyenas and lions—were the most successful. Eight out of nine hyenas, and 16 of the 21 lions correctly pulled the rope (as in the photo) and seized the meat; whereas only six of the 11 leopards and two of the seven tigers did so (see video, above). Lions were also the most exploratory species, circling, digging, biting, pawing, and pushing the box, the team will report next month in Animal Behaviour.“This isn’t a task that requires social cognition,” Borrego says. “Yet, the social species were better at it, and that suggests there’s something about being social that bolsters cognition overall.”Other researchers concur, but with caveats. “They did find a nice link between sociality and success” on this task, says Evan MacLean, a comparative psychologist at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina. But he wonders what type of cognition the ability to open a puzzle box actually demonstrates. “It may be reflective of trial and error learning, insight, or just of curiosity or interest in novel objects.”  The puzzle box is also not particularly “ecologically relevant,” to the carnivores, notes primatologist Frans de Waal at Emory University in Atlanta, who would like to see the animals tested on some type of predator-prey task. Still, it is “a good first step and a fresh approach to the intelligence of carnivores, a group we have neglected for too long.”last_img