How do animals show intelligence?

The intelligence of animals: can they think, love, lie?

The animal and human eyes have a lot in common: a vitreous body, a cornea, a bizarre shaped iris and a pupil that is constantly expanding or narrowing. The animal eye looks no different from the human eye, regardless of whether it belongs to a dog, a cat, a chimpanzee or a bird - it looks sometimes fearful, sometimes questioning, sometimes grateful for the attention that is shown to the animal.

"Do animals have a soul?", Asked Conny Bischofsberger in the "Kronen Zeitung" last Sunday on the occasion of the parties' agreement on a nationwide animal protection law. The basic idea: It should guarantee that animals are viewed more as living beings and are therefore no longer kept in chains or cages.

A step towards civilization, and all the more so since science is increasingly providing evidence that humans are not so fundamentally different from animals that it would be justified to treat them like things. A dog that wags its tail and performs dances of joy when its master comes home suggests that animals have comparable feelings. When the caregiver is distressed, he is sad or makes complaints. But does that make him intelligent?

The Budapest ethologist Vilmos Csányi answers the question as follows: “Dogs are able to learn and obey the rules of the human environment. They show all elements of human behavior, except language. ”So the dog has adapted to humans over the course of thousands of years. But to clarify the question of his possible intelligence, a definition is first required, which Kurt Kotrschal from the Konrad Lorenz Research Center in Grünau im Almtal in Upper Austria formulates as follows (see also box): “We normally define intelligence in terms of complex social behaviors. For example, someone is said to be intelligent who has the ability to cooperate or cheat. ”According to this, the chimpanzee would be much more likely to be seen as intelligent than the dog or other domestic animals.

Genome decoding. But even compared to the chimpanzee, its evolutionarily closest relative, humans felt elevated for a long time due to their supposedly much higher number of genes - until the decoding of the two genomes in 2001 showed that they were 98.4 percent identical. "This tiny deviation of just 1.6 percent hides the secret of what makes people human - from walking upright to poetry," says US genome researcher and author Edwin H. McConkey from the University of Colorado in Boulder . The brain regions responsible for experience, conscious perception and reproduction of feelings are also present in primates, which is why they develop amazing skills with appropriate training.

Jane Goodall, the British chimpanzee researcher, who observed the animals for decades in their ancestral habitat on the Gombe River in Tanzania and lived with them, refuted two assumptions that were supposed to distinguish humans from apes up until then: that only humans, not herbivorous ones Monkey would be able to hunt animals and eat their meat. And that only humans make and use tools. In this context, Goodall made one of the key discoveries in behavioral research: She had observed chimpanzees plucking the leaves from 30 to 40 centimeter long stalks or twigs in order to use their rods to fish termites out of the burrow for consumption.

Other animals also help themselves by using tools: African Egyptian vultures, for example, smash ostrich eggs by bombarding them with stones; Elephants operate leeches from their skin with sticks; Japanese crows throw nuts on the street to be cracked by passing cars; Galapagos woodpecker finches break down cactus spines and use them to get insects out of the tree bark. But Goodall observed a tool made by chimpanzees that is even more surprising in its design: the great apes shape leaves into a kind of sponge to suck water from inaccessible places. To increase the absorbency of the material, chew the leaves beforehand.

But, as Kotrschal asks, if the chimpanzees are so capable, “why don't they build cathedrals, why is it the person who sits at the laptop”?

According to the current state of knowledge, hominization (incarnation) took place in the African savannah area. The ancestors of man developed binocular vision that enabled spatial perception, the upright gait and the ability to step on and grasp in a targeted manner. The oldest stone tools known to date come from Australopithecus garhi, an early human forerunner discovered in Ethiopia, 2.5 million years old. His brain wasn't much bigger than that of a chimpanzee.

A few hundred thousand years later, about 1.8 million years ago, these so-called Oldowan tools appear among the finds from Dmanisi, Georgia, the oldest traces of early humans in Asia. According to the Viennese anthropologist Horst Seidler, the brain volume of these early hominids was barely half as large as that of the later Homo sapiens. Nevertheless, their “high social intelligence” in connection with “communication strategies” (Seidler) was sufficient to be able to successfully cope with a transcontinental migration.

Brain volume. The size of the skull and thus the volume of the brain is not the only decisive factor in the development of such intelligence: "What sets us apart from animals is the development of individual areas of the brain," explains ethologist Kotrschal. The human language center is located in Broca's area of ​​the left anterior frontal lobe. In gorillas and chimpanzees, the so-called “right-left asymmetries”, which are also known as the “Broca-analogous region”, were discovered in this brain region. This area of ​​the brain must have existed around the time when the lines of development of humans and great apes separated, that is, six to eight million years ago.

The neurophysiologists Vittorio Gallese and Giacomo Rizzolatti from the University of Parma made a remarkable discovery in great apes: the nerve cells in this Broca-analogous region have a special function that gives them their name "mirror neurons": These mirror neurons are always active when monkeys either carry out manipulations with the hands or recognize and imitate the actions of the other person.

Considered actions. It has long been known that animals are highly capable of imitating the actions of their fellow species. It is questionable to what extent these are considered and to what extent the animals can empathize with others - skills that until recently, even chimpanzees were denied without exception. This would mean, for example, that you cannot help but take the fuller of two food bowls, even if it is clear that the bowl belongs to another animal. Michael Tomasello from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig was able to prove, however, that chimpanzees have an idea of ​​what conspecifics know and see.

In one of the experiments two chimpanzees were given food. If the weaker felt he was being watched, he didn't dare to take it. But if only he was shown the food, he rushed to it, knowing that the superior had no idea of ​​the food available.

Meanwhile, there is evidence that this empathy for what the other knows is by no means exclusive to primates. Because Tomasello's colleague Juliane Kaminski carried out similar experiments with goats - with the same result. In a series of further experiments it was shown that some animal species register exactly how others behave towards them in social contact. Researchers at the University of Cambridge observed that rooks and jackdaws remember which of their conspecifics have already given them food.

Michael Tomasello also examined chimpanzees' willingness to engage in altruistic behavior. In one of the experiments, in which a monkey was rewarded when someone else pulled a lever, the animals recorded exactly who helped and how often. Apparently they even learned to count. As with similar experiments with humans, violence came into play as soon as one of the two test animals was no longer willing to cooperate.

Social intelligence. Cooperation and communication were central when humans began to domesticate animals thousands of years ago. He preferred types that were socially similar to him, especially those that accept hierarchies. Dogs show amazing social intelligence performances. When it comes to interpreting human gestures, for example, they are superior to chimpanzees or gorillas, which has evidently been fixed in their genetic makeup through thousands of years of coexistence. For a long time it was assumed that domestication tended to cause a cognitive regression because, unlike wolves, dogs often rely too much on humans to solve problems. In fact, in corresponding experiments by a Budapest research group, dogs turned out to be dependent, but still more adept when they knew their caregiver was nearby.

As problematic as it is to transfer human characteristics one-to-one to animals, it is remarkable to what extent animal characteristics are reminiscent of our own - and not only the positive ones: manipulation, deception and lies also exist in animals . Male birds are particularly adept at deceiving. In order to defend their ancestral territory and their female, they hop from tree to tree, sing in different places and in this way let their fellows believe that they are dealing with a multitude of competitors. Chimpanzees, too, can deceive others for their own benefit. If a lower-ranking animal detects food, it will not look if possible so as not to draw the attention of a higher-ranking male to it. Thomas Bugnyar observed a similar “poker face” at the Grünauer Konrad Lorenz research center near Kolkraben. These can only eat parts of the prey, which is why they hide the rest. Conspecifics pretend not to notice and get the delicacies later.

"Each individual adapts their skills to their respective needs," explains ethologist John Dittami from the Zoological Institute at the University of Vienna. “So it is not surprising that animals with needs similar to humans adopt almost the same behavior.” According to this, every animal has as much intelligence as it needs to survive. Some species can be presumed to have a certain ability to plan. For example, kestrels organize their day according to where and when they caught mice the day before. The jay is able to remember up to 30,000 different hiding places for food. It is true that this can be explained by his talent for hiding and finding and not by his intelligence. It does mean, however, that some bird species must have an idea of ​​the past and the future.

Orientation. Temporal and spatial orientation, for example, helps dolphins to survive as soon as they get caught in the large fishing nets of the fishing trawler. You have learned that the net sinks for about 20 seconds when it is hauled in and offers the opportunity to escape. Due to their special abilities, the animals are also used to search for mines, as in the previous year at the beginning of the Gulf War in the port of Basra.

Other animal species have developed their own skills for orientation. The chimpanzee-like bonobos, for example, mark the path they have used in the forest through broken branches or fruit. And rats can use a mental map to find food even in a maze. To do this, it is necessary for the animals to let their memories run through in front of an inner eye, much like when humans try to remember where they have put their keys. According to the German science journalist Ernst Meckelburg, such mental maps, like those developed by elephants or bees, cannot be explained by the principle of “trial and error”, but indicate a type of intelligence. *)

The American animal rights attorney Steven Wise uses all of these skills to secure a minimum basic right for certain animal species such as chimpanzees (see box on page 111). It is unclear, however, where the line would be drawn between animals that obviously only perform genetically programmed instinctive actions and those that also act consciously. This determination would by no means be easy. Because even genetic pre-programming does not exclude consciousness - humans also have both options. "After we humans have an awareness, one should rather ask why animals shouldn't have one," says Kotrschal. The ethologist refuses to decide the question of animal intelligence only on the basis of whether something is learned or innate, because both are genetically based.

In recent years, behavioral research has dealt intensively with the question of whether animals have an ego-consciousness. Experiments in which animals saw each other in the mirror led to a wide variety of results. While dolphins watch their reflection with interest and primates try to wipe a painted stain off their face, deer pay no attention to their image. According to the book author Meckelburg, the fact that dogs and cats react to their nicknames could be a possible indication of self-awareness. Otherwise, he explains, they would respond to the call of any word.

Although science has suggested that animals feel similar to humans since Charles Darwin, behaviorists are cautious. Konrad Lorenz, for example, said that the question of whether or how animals experience feelings can never be answered seriously. Basic emotions such as joy, fear, anger and sadness are attributed to some animals that are closely related to humans. “But can one also speak of feelings that are related to ethics, morals or contempt?” Asks Kotrschal.

In any case, there must be some kind of emotional life after animals also go through mental crises. Dogs, for example, suffer particularly from loneliness. When they mourn, they don't eat. In young great apes, the loss of the mother can lead to depression and developmental disorders. In order to stand by each other in crisis situations, the animals show behaviors similar to humans. They show compassion, calm down through physical closeness, the laying on of hands or hugs, especially when, as in the case of macaques, chimpanzees or Barbary macaques, social life is particularly pronounced. They therefore appear more human in their actions than less developed animal species.

"The regulation of emotions takes place in the tonsil nucleus, in the hippocampus and in the hippothalamus, the command center of the brain," explains behavioral scientist Dittami. "Since these structures can also be found in many animals, it is obvious that they too are capable of feelings similar to us humans."

The opinion, especially widespread among butchers and ranchers, that animals would not feel pain when slaughtered because the state of shock suppressed it, is no longer tenable. The mammalian pain system is very similar to that of humans. Pain sensors transmit the stimuli via the nervous system to the spinal cord and from there to the pain receptors in the brain. If a dog hurts its paw even slightly, it will hobble. Without feeling pain, he would have no reason to drag his leg.

For a long time, language was regarded as the absolute human domain. But a number of behavioral research experiments are now shaking it too. For example, Sue Savage-Rumbaugh of the Yerkes National Primate Research Center at Emory University in Atlanta taught her Bonobo Kanzi to articulate himself using 250 geometric symbols arranged on keys. In the keyboard language called “Yerkisch” by the researchers, Kanzi asks for a banana or a toy, and in this way he communicates with his no less talented sister.

Geometric word symbols. "Not only do they repeat things, they answer our questions," claims Savage-Rumbaugh. When Kanzi's supervisor articulated the geometric word symbols in English, Kanzi gradually learned to understand this language as well. The researcher believes that Kanzi has already developed sounds on her own that can be assigned to the terms “banana”, “grapes”, “juice” and “yes”.

Since Kanzi and his sister grew up at the Primate Research Center in Atlanta, critics warn against inferring wild bonobos from such experiments. The scientist Savage-Rumbaugh wanted to prove that the animals have a fundamental prelinguistic ability.Although humans have complex linguistic abilities, part of their communication is carried out outside of linguistic means using gestures and sounds.

Ornithologist Irene Pepperberg from Rudgers University in the US state of New Jersey has carried out numerous language experiments with her African gray parrot Alex. According to Pepperberg, the bird is not only parroting incoherently, but has mastered more than a hundred terms and can even form the simplest sentences with three words. He is also able to assign properties such as material, color and shape to objects. "Alex has shown," says Pepperberg, "that he can understand even abstract concepts at the primate level." In contrast, dogs are only given passive language skills. According to the current state of science, you can recognize commands not only by their tone of voice, but also by up to 50 different words.

In nature, animals use different types of communication. While birds, dolphins and primates mainly communicate acoustically, ants exchange chemical signals and fish exchange electrical signals. The Austrian biologist Karl von Frisch received the Nobel Prize in 1973 for his discovery that honeybees use certain dance patterns to communicate about the location and accessibility of feeding grounds. However, all these forms of communication relate to the present. Past or future cannot be expressed.

Human in animal. So many animals have more abilities than one would generally expect from them. Much of what was previously considered the sole domain of humans can, at least in part, also be attributed to other species. "If an ability that is supposedly unique to humans is found," says animal researcher Kotrschal, "primatologists can usually prove this in chimpanzees as well."

While the Austrian wildlife researcher Antal Festetics considers the direct comparisons between humans and animals, referred to in science as “anthropomorphism”, to be problematic, Kotrschal regards them as legitimate - albeit with reservations: “People should refrain from underestimating the capabilities of different animal groups. But you shouldn't overestimate them either. ”Konrad Lorenz was of the opinion that although all animals are to be found in humans, not all humans are to be found in animals.