Animal Intelligence

Animal Intelligence? Often those who study animal intelligence are searching for the human reflection in the animal world. They feel that by unraveling the workings of the animal brain, they might find clues to the mysterious minds of humans. And because of their closeness to humankind, they find monkeys and apes especially fascinating. A major component of intelligence lies in flexibility of mind and adaptability to situations. When things change, when they are not the way they were before, the intelligent animal notices and tries to adjust to the changed circumstances.

The instinctual animal, such as a honeybee collecting for the hive, sometimes cannot adjust, so it continues in its old behavior patterns, even when they do not deal adequately with the new situation. Higher primates-monkeys, apes and humans-are probably the most mentally flexible of all animals. But why? One reason for primate intelligence derives from the nature of its food sources. Primates tend to rely on food that is found in scattered patches, like fruit and berries. They need to be able to remember where they found food yesterday or last week and how to find that place again.

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This requirement can lead to learning and memory. While scattered, complex food sources certainly require good memory, that one factor cannot completely explain the primates adaptability. Other animals, such as birds, also rely on the same kind of food source, yet they do not appear to have the mental flexibility of primates. Primate intelligence could also have evolved to deal with the complex social life that is characteristic of these gregarious creatures. Over the last thirty years, many primatologists and behavioral ecologists have documented the intricate social interactions of the primates in the wild. Such researchers as Jane Goodall have made major breakthroughs in this area of study to support their theories, as in tool use.

Humans were known to be the only creature to use tools but thanks to excellent observations many, many other animals are known to posses this quality. The need to deal immediately and appropriately with the behavior of ones fellows could certainly result in sharpened wits over time. But other animals, such as zebras and wolves, are also highly social and rely on their group living to help them survive. Even so, such creatures still do not have the great flexibility of mind that characterizes many primate species. Perhaps the real key, as suggested by Goodall, resides rather in what might be considered a weakness of primates when compared to, say, wolves. Wolves, instinctively, are highly efficient killers; they do one thing very well.

Monkeys and apes, on the other hand, have no one great skill. They are quite good at a lot of different tasks. Instinct, which results in less flexible behavior pattern, works like a lock and key. In a particular situation, the behavior is superbly suited to the occasion. But when things change it is no longer appropriate.

The primate brain is designed not to open just one kind of lock especially well; it can figure out how to many different kinds of locks. Instead of built-in talents exhibited by many animals, the primate goes about solving lifes problems in a flexible, adaptable manor. Example 1 In a deep, dark heart of the hive, a worker bee discovers the body of her dead sister. She picks up the dead bee in her strong jaws and carries it across several combs filled with honey until she reaches the narrow hive entrance. She steps out into the bright sunlight and drops her burden over the edge of the entrance platform. Example 2 In a scientific laboratory a rat is gently lifted into a strange box by a researcher.

The box is a maze, with partitions blocking areas so that only one route leads from where the rat is dropped to the food box at the other end. The rat has been here before, and it knows what to do. The animal zips through the maze, bending its body this way and that. Within seconds, that rat is chewing on the food pellets that are its reward. A rat and a bee-one an insect performing its natural behavior at home, the other a mammal conquering a problem set for it by humans in a laboratory-what, if anything do they have in common? And what does this tell us about their mental ability? At first glance, the behavior of the bee looks remarkably intelligent.

A dead bee could carry a disease that might spread through the hive, so the body should be removed to maintain colony health. Dead bees emit and odor that triggers removal behavior by workers. If the chemical that releases the odor is touched to anything, it is discarded as well, even another live bee may be thrown from the hive. This is purely instinct. The rat, on the other hand, had been through the maze before.

The first time, it had no clue about which direction to go to find the food; only blind, random stumbling led it eventually to success the first time. But the rat remembered part of the route so that the next time it could reach its reward more quickly, and soon it could zip through the maze with no hesitation. The rats conquering of the maze is a good example of learning. Learning and instinct are two different kinds of intelligence, one animal is not strictly on or the other but a complex blend of the two vital components. And within the last twenty years scientists have finally begun to see how these two potent forces interact in determining the behavior of all animals. Carl Sagen says the diferance between humans and animals is intelligence.

I have shown without a doubt that animals, which humans are a sub group in, have intelligence.


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