Animal Intelligence Is Underestimated

Yogi may be “smarter than the average bear,” but Ayumu is smarter than the average human. The chimpanzee featured in a 2007 Kyoto University memory study out performed a group of University students and even the British memory champion Ben Pridmore. The test involved a random series of number 1 through 9 briefly flashing on a screen for a fraction of a second. Ayumu proved that in some functions, animal brains can outperform their human counterparts.

Another study found that elephants are actually self-aware. When an elephant had a mark painted on its head and was faced with a large, elephant-size mirror, it rubbed the mark with its trunk. Additionally, elephants are able to solve complex problems using tools. One elephant kicked a box into place and then stood on it to get to a high fruit. Even when the box was out of site, the elephant remembered it and retrieved it to get to another fruit.

Scientists are increasingly finding that some of the old assumptions on animal intelligence were based on flaws in testing. Animals think differently than humans, so it doesn’t make sense to give them the same testing metrics. For example, chimpanzees were thought to lack the ability to recognize faces. Well, it turns out they can’t recognize human faces very well, but they excel at recognizing the faces of other chimps. An experiment by Lisa Parr at Emory University used images of chimpanzees on a computer screen. The chimps could tell which juveniles belonged to which mothers even without actually knowing the other chimps personally.

This raises serious ethical questions on human treatment of animals. Most notably, the practice of animal testing and abuse comes to mind. If these animals possess some of the same capabilities that we believe set us apart (self-awareness, higher thinking, abstraction), then it follows that we have similar moral duties to them as we do to other humans.

Give the example of rats, frequently used in experiments. One study found that a rat would put off going for a treat in order to help another rat escape a trap. The two would then enjoy the treat together. If these rats are capable of acts of selflessness, then it also raises the question of whether animals have their own moral code to abide by.

Additional Resources

The Wall Street Journal, The Brains of the Animal Kingdom: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887323869604578370574285382756.html?mod=e2tw

NBC News, The 10 Smartest Animals: http://www.nbcnews.com/id/24628983/ns/technology_and_science-science/t/smartest-animals/#.UVRPzVeQsrM

Do Something, 11 Facts About Animal Testing: http://www.dosomething.org/tipsandtools/11-facts-about-animal-testing

Planet Science, Animal Testing: http://www.planet-science.com/categories/over-11s/technology/2011/09/animal-testing—the-facts.aspx

USDA, Animal Welfare Act Information: http://www.aphis.usda.gov/animal_welfare/awa_info.shtml

The Humane Society of the U.S., Alternatives to Animal Tests: http://www.humanesociety.org/issues/cosmetic_testing/facts/alternatives_animal_tests.html

The Humane Society of the U.S., Animal Cruelty Facts and Statistics: http://www.humanesociety.org/issues/abuse_neglect/facts/animal_cruelty_facts_statistics.html

FDA, Animal Testing: http://www.fda.gov/Cosmetics/ProductandIngredientSafety/ProductTesting/ucm072268.htm

 

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