Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Animal Intelligence: Seems That Many Non-Human Animals May Very Well Outshine The Majority of Humans in Various Ways.

A good, quick article on animal intelligence. Seems that many non-human animals may very well outshine the majority of humans in various ways.

A few snap shots from the article:

(find the full article below)

A 2004 article in Science caused a stir with a study on a German border collie whose vocabulary and reasoning skills are comparable to a human toddler’s. In a series of experiments, the collie, Rico, was asked by his owner to find and retrieve a specific toy from a pile of playthings in an adjacent room. The furry mastermind had a success rate of over 92 percent. Even more remarkably, Rico was able to use process of elimination to deduce that a new sound from his owner must be the name of a previously unseen toy. Toddlers use this technique, dubbed “fast mapping,” to learn new words; scientists had never thought animals shared this ability. While Rico, who has a vocabulary of more than 200 words and retains new information weeks later, may be a dog genius, his abilities have prompted scientists to speculate whether dogs would be able to speak if they just had the necessary anatomy.

“When making the point that language requires more than just the right environment, psychologists often point out that both a baby and a dog are exposed to language, but only the baby learns to talk. This example may have to change,” writes Paul Bloom, a Yale University psychologist, analyzing the study in Science. While Bloom admits that far more research is necessary to clarify how Rico’s ability to learn compares with that of a child, he adds, “This study… might signal the emergence of a vibrant area of comparative cognition research.”

Those of us who have a hard time recalling phone numbers or locating misplaced car keys might have something to learn from the Clark’s Nutcracker, a bird found throughout the Cascade and Rocky Mountains. Clark’s Nutcrackers feed primarily on the seeds of the whitebark pine, a regal windblown tree that clings to the high country—but the nutcrackers don’t eat all their food at once. Rather, they store up to 100 seeds in their cheek pouches and then bury caches of the seeds in as many as 9,000 different locations. Due to an enlarged region in their brains that dictates spatial memory, the Nutcrackers use forest features such as downed logs to help them remember storage sites.

Another animal often maligned for its perceived lack of intelligence—sheep—may also be sharper than previously believed. It turns out that sheep can remember up to 50 individual sheep faces—even in profile—for at least two years, according to British scientists at the Babraham Institute in Cambridge. The animals’ extraordinary recall of their barnyard brethren originates in the same region of the brain humans use when introducing each other at cocktail parties.

Whole story:

The Secret Life of Pets

http://wholelifetimes.com/2006/01/petsmart0601.html

They share our homes, our lives and our love. But just what goes on in the minds of our animal companions?

By Rebecca Clarren

My cat Arthur is smarter than several members of my family. He never forgets a face, he understands two languages and when I’m upset, he purrs in my ear. Sometimes when he stares at me I’m sure he’s reading my mind. Would you like to see a snapshot? See his intelligent green eyes? Oh, and this is your daughter? Oh really, she’s learning to read now? That’s nice. Did I mention that Arthur can tell when I’m sad?

Pet lovers, rejoice: science has validated our enthusiastic bragging—at least to a degree. In recent years, an increasing amount of research has found that dogs and cats, as well as birds and other animals, are far more intelligent and emotionally astute than previously believed. This new science indicates that we may want to rethink the way we treat our furry and feathered friends.

“I’m incredulous at how much stuff is coming out all the time on animal emotions and the general rubric of animal cognition. We’re rewriting our stereotypes about animals with good scientific data,” says Marc Bekoff, a professor of evolutionary biology at the University of Colorado, Boulder. “What’s really exciting about all of this [data] is that it has huge implications for how we interact with, and treat, other animals.”

It was only about a decade ago that scientists were debating whether animals had emotions at all; the Golden Retriever with the goofy grin on its face isn’t capable of feeling actual “happiness,” said many biologists. Today, for the most part, that debate is finished. Ethologists have begun to accept the once radical notion that animals such as dogs possess subtle mental states such as envy and empathy.

Professor Bekoff has spent the past 35 years studying animal behavior, particularly canine. After watching countless videotapes of dogs playing, Bekoff noticed a fascinating reoccurring behavior pattern in doggy play. While interacting, the dogs would constantly signal their intentions and continually check to ensure that their peers were correctly interpreting their actions. The group would ostracize those dogs that indicated a playful bite but delivered a harsh one.

“It indicates that animals have a sense of morality and that’s tied to intelligence because to have a sense of self, they have to be able to understand right from wrong,” says Bekoff.

Other science confirms that dogs possess more complex communication skills than previously believed. A 2004 article in Science caused a stir with a study on a German border collie whose vocabulary and reasoning skills are comparable to a human toddler’s. In a series of experiments, the collie, Rico, was asked by his owner to find and retrieve a specific toy from a pile of playthings in an adjacent room. The furry mastermind had a success rate of over 92 percent. Even more remarkably, Rico was able to use process of elimination to deduce that a new sound from his owner must be the name of a previously unseen toy. Toddlers use this technique, dubbed “fast mapping,” to learn new words; scientists had never thought animals shared this ability. While Rico, who has a vocabulary of more than 200 words and retains new information weeks later, may be a dog genius, his abilities have prompted scientists to speculate whether dogs would be able to speak if they just had the necessary anatomy.

“When making the point that language requires more than just the right environment, psychologists often point out that both a baby and a dog are exposed to language, but only the baby learns to talk. This example may have to change,” writes Paul Bloom, a Yale University psychologist, analyzing the study in Science. While Bloom admits that far more research is necessary to clarify how Rico’s ability to learn compares with that of a child, he adds, “This study… might signal the emergence of a vibrant area of comparative cognition research.”

Those of us who have a hard time recalling phone numbers or locating misplaced car keys might have something to learn from the Clark’s Nutcracker, a bird found throughout the Cascade and Rocky Mountains. Clark’s Nutcrackers feed primarily on the seeds of the whitebark pine, a regal windblown tree that clings to the high country—but the nutcrackers don’t eat all their food at once. Rather, they store up to 100 seeds in their cheek pouches and then bury caches of the seeds in as many as 9,000 different locations. Due to an enlarged region in their brains that dictates spatial memory, the Nutcrackers use forest features such as downed logs to help them remember storage sites.

“They’re not bird brains, far from it,” laughs David Dalton, a Reed College biology professor.

Another animal often maligned for its perceived lack of intelligence—sheep—may also be sharper than previously believed. It turns out that sheep can remember up to 50 individual sheep faces—even in profile—for at least two years, according to British scientists at the Babraham Institute in Cambridge. The animals’ extraordinary recall of their barnyard brethren originates in the same region of the brain humans use when introducing each other at cocktail parties.

Cat lovers, don’t despair. New studies show that cats have also fallen prey to unjust stereotypes—they aren’t the anti-social snobs society has labeled them. In fact, write Janet and Steven Alger in their book Cat Culture: The Social World of a Cat Shelter, (Temple University Press) cats can maintain community and form close bonds with humans and with each other. After four years of observing cats in captivity, the Algers found that the felines actively initiated ways of running the shelter, were very social and weren’t aggressive, despite the shelter’s tight quarters.

“Our research tells us that the old image of animals operating on the basis of instinct and being preprogrammed in their behavior doesn’t fit. They[’re] able to shape social communities and adjust their behavior to different situations,” says Steve Alger, a sociology professor at St. Rose College in Albany, NY. “I think it has to indicate that they’re more intelligent than has been thought.”

Algers and others say that this research should encourage us to rethink the way we treat animals in places like factory farms, zoos and medical labs. It also has application for rethinking the way we care for sick pets.

Nancy Scanlon, a holistic veterinarian in Sherman Oaks, believes this data vindicates what holistic doctors have said for decades. Animal illnesses can be exacerbated by negative mental states, like anxiety, says Scanlon, which is why it’s essential to treat mind and body in tandem.

“There is a continuum; I don’t think we can say anymore that man is king and animals are peons. We’re companions,” Scanlon avers. “With this new science [my animal clients] can gloat, ‘This proves what I’ve always thought.’”

Hah. So, you want to see Arthur’s picture now?

Rebecca Clarren and her cat Arthur live in Portland, Ore. When she isn’t attending to the needs of her furry friend, Rebecca writes about science, agriculture and the environment in publications including The Nation, High Country News, Salon.com and Ms.

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