Animals: Are They Smart?


Animals are cute; we all know that, but did you know that they are super smart too? Most of us have always thought of animals as simple creatures roaming the Earth for food; however, new studies have shown that they are much more than that. They are intelligent; they have good problem-solving skills and are very much aware of their surroundings.

Studies focusing on animal and bird behavior conducted tests on elephants, horses, and cormorants. Self-awareness, for example, was tested using the “Mirror Self-Recognition (MSR) test” to see if animals could recognize their reflections in the mirror. Only few species have passed the test; such as great apes, dolphins, and elephants. It is believed that animal self-recognition is linked to more complex forms of perspective taking and empathy.

Another new mirror test was devised to measure animal awareness of their bodies in relation to its physical environment. The test was adapted from one where children were asked to push a shopping cart that was attached to a mat on which they were standing. The test was modified to the Asian elephants, where a stick was attached to a rubber mat using a rope; the elephants were required to walk on the mat, pick up the stick, and pass it to an experimenter standing in front of them. The researchers wanted to determine if the elephants would recognize their bodies as obstacles, observing how and when they would remove themselves from the mat, which was at one point of the test unattached to the stick, meaning the elephant could pass the stick while standing on the mat.

“Elephants are well regarded as one of the most intelligent animals on the planet, but we still need more empirical, scientific evidence to support this belief” says Rachel Dale, a PhD student at the University of Veterinary Medicine, Vienna. “We know, for example, that they are capable of thoughtful cooperation and empathy, and are able to recognize themselves in a mirror. These abilities are highly unusual in animals and are very rare indeed in non-primates; we wanted to see if they also show body-awareness,” Dale added.

Horses, too, are not any less smart than Asian elephants. A behavioral study demonstrates that when horses are faced with an unsolvable problem, they use their visual and tactile signals to draw human attention and ask for help. This study also shows that horses alter their communicative behavior based on human knowledge of the situation.

In this study, scientists investigated social cognitive skills with humans in a problem-solving situation, where food was hidden in a place accessible only to humans. For the first experiment, food was hidden in a bucket that the horse could not reach; the researchers observed how the horse signaled the caretaker—unaware of the situation—when he arrived. The horse stayed near the caretaker, looked at, touched, and pushed him; these signals happened over longer periods of time than when the food was not hidden. This showed that, when the horses are faced with a problem they cannot solve, they send signals to humans visually and physically.

Based on the results of the first experiment, the second experiment tested whether horse behavior changes based on the caretaker knowledge of the hidden food. When the caretaker did not see the food being hidden, the horses gave more signals, demonstrating that horses have high social cognitive skills that allow them to easily change their behavior according to the human knowledge of the situation.

Moreover, behavioral studies and tests have also been conducted on marine birds and the findings were amazing. It has been known that seals, whales, and other marine animals can hear under water, but for the first time scientists show that cormorants have this ability too. It makes sense that they are able to hear under water; the environment where they hunt for food. Researchers expressed that it was very useful for cormorants to hear under water, since they depend on being able to find food even when the water is not clear, or if they live in the Arctic regions, where it is dark for long periods of time.

Aside from marine animal behavior, this discovery also sheds light on how some of the human behaviors could disturb the ocean animals searching for food. Human-made sounds ranges from spinning wind turbines and ship traffic to water scooters and drilling platforms.

As it turns out, animals are not exactly mindless creatures; in fact, they possess exceptional skills. We are curious to know what more could be hidden in their magical world!


*This article was published in SCIplanet printed magazine, Autumn 2017 Issue.

About Us

SCIplanet is a bilingual edutainment science magazine published by the Bibliotheca Alexandrina Planetarium Science Center and developed by the Cultural Outreach Publications Unit ...
Continue reading

Contact Us

P.O. Box 138, Chatby 21526, Alexandria, EGYPT
Tel.: +(203) 4839999
Ext.: 1737–1781

Become a member

© 2022 | Bibliotheca Alexandrina