Deceptively Amazing: The Intelligence of Our Pets

November 10, 2017

 Photo Source: Pixabay

 

       When we think of animals, we often think of them as being adorable, but not necessarily intelligent. I would gather that it is because they cannot communicate with language (even though the majority of our own communication is actually nonverbal (Psychology Today)). However, as we conduct scientific tests, we have actually begun to learn something completely different. In actuality, animals hold an amazing amount of knowledge and intelligence. Such examples include birds and dogs, animals that a lot of us have in our houses that we know and love. 

 

      Since we can’t communicate with animals, scientists have had to get creative with how we assess the intelligence of animals. When testing dogs, a lot of the methods revolved around getting a treat (as any dog owner knows, that is one of the best dog motivators of all time) (Scientific American). For instance, British psychologists Rosalind Arden and Mark Adams conducted a battery of tests to assess the intelligence of their canine subjects. One of these tests included navigating through a maze to get to a treat. The best dogs were able to get to the treat in 3 seconds. Dogs also possess a lot of important social skills. For instance, dogs are able to understand hand movements and their meanings, such as when someone points to food so the dog can find it (Business Insider). Dogs also are able to follow human gazes to be able to find hidden treats. Apes actually had a hard time implementing these same skills. Dogs are also able to interpret the differences in emotions in voices. 

 

      With scientific testing, we have also begun to learn that birds are also deceptively smart. Through both laboratory testing and natural observation, especially the latter, we have found birds exhibit interesting instances of intelligent behavior (The Spruce). For instance, carrion crows place nuts on streets for cars to crush, then they wait for traffic signals to fly down and grab the cracked nut for consumption. Aplomado falcons have also exhibited social skills through working together in pairs for hunting. In research, we have also learned that birds also have shown the ability to use insight to solve problems (Gizmodo). For instance, in an intelligence test, rooks were able to receive a treat by dropping objects into a tube of water in order to make the water rise so that they can grab the treat floating on top of the water (Gizmodo). They also understood the idea of efficiency, since the rooks chose to drop larger stones into the water in order to make the water rise faster.  It is fascinating that these birds are able to understand this concept of physics and are able to solve problems using the tools at their disposal. Part of this has to do with the structure of bird brains. Bird brains have a high concentration of neurons, or brain cells, for their small size. 

 

       As we study animals, we seem to smash prior perceptions of their intelligence. For instance, dogs actually hold a lot of social intelligence, including understanding hand gestures that apes couldn’t grasp in research studies. Birds, despite the connotation of the phrase “bird brain,” are actually unbelievably intelligent and have very similar brain structures to humans. With that similar brain structure, they have also shown spectacular behaviors such as using tools and hunting in packs for maximum hunting potential. Whenever I learn about the spectacular intelligence that animals possess, especially when the perception before was the contrary, it makes me wonder what other sort of things we take for granted as true. Perhaps we need to sometimes to reexamine facets of our lives; we might find something wondrous right under our noses. 

 

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