Researchers at Oxford University have conducted a study of mammal brain sizes and concluded dogs are smarter than cats because of their relative increase in brain size over the last 60 million years. They said dog brains grew more due to the demands of constant social interaction, whereas cat brains stayed about the same size due to being more solitary creatures.
Last year a study came to the same conclusion regarding dog intelligence, based on tests involving dogs and cats pulling strings to get rewards. The cats didn’t do well at all. We probably have all heard people tell humorous stories of cats completely ignoring humans, and shunning interaction with humans, so why would a research study assume they would be suddenly fully engaged by a test set up by scientists at a particular time and place?
Dogs, on the other hand, appear to be generally very interested in social interaction, playing with balls, playing/wrestling with each other, and so forth. If you don’t believe me, visit a dog park on any day and you will see a high level of social engagement, but is there such thing as a cat park? Perhaps one could say dogs are more task-oriented and since they are descended from wolves, which are very socially-oriented animals living in packs with complex interaction, a test set up by human masters involving simple tasks and rewards is nearly designed for them to excel on. Which is to say humans, being social creatures, made a research test biased towards other social creatures, dogs in this case. A test using sweet foods as rewards would not be indicative of cat intelligence because cats don’t taste sweetness due to their taste buds being different.
For this year’s study, the focus on physical brain measurements depends upon the assumption that an increase in brain size on a evolutionary time scale indicates dogs are smarter than cats. However, there is another assumption involved — that dogs and cats started off with equal intelligence, and dogs increased. Even if dogs and cats millions of years ago had the same size brains, that does mean they were of equal intelligence. It’s possible cats were smarter then, and still smarter now, but have smaller, more efficient brains. What is more likely given that evolution seems to reward creatures with adaptability and diverse skill sets, is that dog and cat intelligences are different, and comparing them is much more complex than simply measuring physical brain size.
Next year will researchers tackle the issue of whether humans are smarter than dogs and cats?
Image Credit: Tim Vickers