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Unfair animal intelligence tests


From Bob Holmes at New Scientist on unfair animal intelligence tests:

Elephants can’t recognise themselves in a mirror? Sure they can – if you give them a mirror big enough to show more than just a leg or two. As researchers learn to design more appropriate IQ tests that meet the animals on their own terms, more and more claims about things only humans can do are proving false.


Byrne’s concern is with one particular part of the intellectual landscape, a skill he calls “insight” – an animal’s ability to form and manipulate ideas in its head. Many apparently sophisticated behaviours need not imply any insight at all, he argues. When a band of chimps cuts off every escape route from a tree and thus kills a monkey, it may look like a planned, coordinated act, but each chimp may simply be maximising its own chance of getting the monkey by finding a spot where it has no competitors. Similarly, seemingly insightful social awareness (say, recruiting higher-ranking allies to avoid being picked on) could be explained more simply by a good memory and quick learning.More.

The whole thing descends into the ridiculous when authors try to plumb the unbridgeable gulf between human and animal intelligence with an attempted “New Scientist” type fix.

See also: Animal minds: In search of the minimal self


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