Evidence for Animal Intelligence

Evidence for Animal Intelligence

Intelligence is a psychological construct, which is very difficult to define. It has something to do with learning and being able to adapt to the environment.

However we define intelligence, there is more to it than conditioning and social learning. Here are some examples of apparent animal intelligence:

Insight learning: This is the ability to solve a problem or perform an appropriate behaviour at the first attempt. Köhler (1925) performed experiments with chimpanzees, who seemed to show evidence of insight to gain access to food (although Köhler was quite selective in his reporting of events - making the problem solving sound more direct than it was).

It is possible that Köhler's chimpanzees could have solved the problems using a sequence of conditioned responses rather than insight - a similar thing has been demonstrated in pigeons (Epstein et al., 1984).

Evidence for Animal Intelligence

Self-recognition: The ability to recognise oneself in a reflection. This is quite uncommon in non-human animals, most view the image as another animal (Peace, 1997).

Chimpanzees have been shown to explore parts of their bodies using mirrors and pay particular attention to patches of dye put on them whilst under anaesthetic (Gallup, 1970). The interest in the dye patches is evidence of self-recognition (they would need a memory of what they used to look like to know the dye is new). There have, however, been problems replicating this study, perhaps because such tasks present inherent difficulties (Bard, 1994).

Theory of mind: The ability to imagine yourself as you are viewed by others. This is a bit tricky to get your head round! It gives you the ability to 'read someone's mind', to guess their feelings, desires and intentions.

The term was first used by Woodruff & Premack (1979) in the context of chimpanzees' abilities intentionally to deceive their keepers.

Their chimpanzee observed food being hidden under one of two containers. On the arrival of a keeper, she communicated which container she wanted. The cooperative keeper would give her the food in the container, whereas the competitive keeper would give her the other container.

The chimpanzee could discriminate between these two intentions and modified her request to always get the food. But, this could have come about through operant conditioning as it took a number of trials for the chimpanzee to discriminate between the keepers.

More ambiguous evidence comes from Povinelli et al. (1990). This study also demonstrated that a chimpanzee could discriminate between the knowledge of two trainers. But, again, the results could have come about through operant conditioning.

A great deal of effort has been put into demonstrating a theory of mind in non-human animals, but the results have suggested that the behaviour could have occurred by chance or through processes such as associative learning (Heyes, 1998).