Saturday, July 08, 2006

Social Animals Prove their Smarts

This is the title of an interesting brief review of animal intelligence by Pennisi in the June 23 issue of Science Magazine. It points out the remarkable range of behaviors once thought unique to humans but now observed in social animals. The reigning paradigm now is that social living fostered the evolution of intelligence. Crows deceive each other, as do apes; hyenas keep track of social hierarchies. There is no doubt that animals can attribute intentions and motives to others. This ability can evolve quickly. Foxes bred to for 45 years to be comfortable with humans can understand human gestures (like pointing to food). Untamed foxes can not, even after extensive training efforts. What still has not been convincingly shown for any animal is the ability to understand that another individual is thinking something wrong. Human children develop this ability by the age of four.

The roots of social intelligence. Fellowship. Foxes bred to be tame are keenly tuned in to human behavior. From Science Magazine, Credit: Irene Plyusnia, Photo Courtesy Of Brian Hare.

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