Have you ever wondered whether a bigger brain is a smarter brain?
Scientists have pondered this question for ages: why do some species have larger brains compared to their body mass, while others have tiny brains and massive bodies? In the past, scientists believed that bigger brains relative to body size were more intelligent, but there was never enough concrete evidence to support the theory.
However, a new study has attempted to examine this theory by conducting an elaborate experiment.
The study is titled “Brain size predicts problem-solving ability in mammalian carnivores” and appears in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. It is authored by Sarah Benson-Amram, a professor at the Univ. of Wyoming, and indicates that carnivorous animals with large brains relative to their body mass are superior at problem-solving.
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The experiment was conducted in nine different zoos across the nation, and involved 140 animals from 39 different mammalian carnivore species. These included animals such as bears, foxes, wildcats, wolves, hyenas and some rare, exotic species. Each animal had 30 minutes to extract its favorite food from a bolted metal box.
It was observed that animals with bigger brains compared to their bodies were more effective at the task.
Ben Dantzer, one of the other authors of the study, explained, “Overall, 35 percent of animals (49 individuals from 23 species) were successful in solving the problem. The bears were the most successful, solving the problem almost 70 percent of the time. Meerkats and mongooses were the least successful, with no individuals from their species solving the problem.” Another interesting finding was that smaller animals were more effective problem solvers.
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The researchers also studied animals that live in larger average group sizes. Kay Holekamp, another author, talks about the “social brain hypothesis”, which proposes that bigger brains developed through dealing with challenges like reacting to or manipulating the actions of others in the social domain. This hypothesis has gathered support in primate studies, and could explain why species that live in larger social groups tend to be smarter.
Though the study did not find any support for the ‘social brain hypothesis’ or its effects on the problem solving abilities of the animals, it has helped further our knowledge about the relationship between brain and body size in animals. Future experimentation will hopefully lead to more conclusive results about animal intelligence.
Feature Image Source: Brains by Neil Conway