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Title: A Recent Survey Of Primate Intelligence
Description: International Zoo News

Virgil - October 25, 2006 06:10 AM (GMT)
International Zoo News Vol. 53, No. 6 (2006), p. 325


A recent survey of primate intelligence [R.O. Deaner, C.P. van Schaik and V. Johnson, Evolutionary Psychology 4 (2006), 149-1961 has resulted in some unexpected findings. The study, led by Robert Deaner at Duke University Medical Center, Durham, North Carolina, analysed the results of dozens of problem solving puzzles given by scientists to various species. Previous research had attempted to compare different primates' abilities at specific tasks, including tests of ability to navigate mazes, to untangle a jumble of differently coloured threads to find food, and to spot the odd one out in a series of images, but no one had ever combined these data into an overall measure of intelligence. This is what Dr Deaner's team have now done, producing a league table of the cognitive ability of a number of genera or species (Table 1). The fact that orang-utans beat chimpanzees into first place will probably cause little surprise to keepers and curators with experience of the extraordinary powers of observation, concentration and persistence which have made these apes the Houdinis of the zoo world. But what becomes of the widely-held theory that group living triggers increased brain-power, if the solitary orang turns out to have a higher IQ than the gregarious chimp?

Table 1. League table of primate intelligence.

1 . Orang-utan

2. Chimpanzee

3. Spider monkey

4. Gorilla

5. Surili (Leaf monkey)

6. Maeaque

7. Mandrill

8. Guenon

9. Mangabey

10. Capuchin

11. Woolly monkey

12. Gibbon

13. Baboon

14. Slow loris

15 Night monkey

16. Ruffed lemur

17. Brown lemur

18. Fork-marked lemur

19. Ring-tailed lemur

20. Bushbaby

21. Squirrel monkey

22. Mouse lemur

23. Marmoset

24. Talapoin

The appearance of the spider monkey in third place, ahead even of the gorilla, is astonishing. But the surprises continue all the way down. Most of us, probably, have always taken for granted a rough, generalized hierarchy of primate intelligence, with apes at the top, followed by Old World monkeys, New World monkeys and prosimians. The picture here is much more complicated. There are indeed five Old World monkeys in the top ten, but also two New World ones. Another Old World species, the talapoin, is at the bottom of the list. And who would have expected the slow loris to outsmart not merely the lemurs, but several monkeys as well? The findings will no doubt arouse much interest - and presumably some opposition - in the scientific community. But it would also be useful to hear the more subjective reactions of zoo people with long day-to-day experience of the animals in question.

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