A Model for the Evolution of Intelligence
Published:25 Apr.2024    Source:McGill University

When certain species of wild birds and primates discover new ways of finding food in the wild, it can serve to measure their flexibility and intelligence. In the largest experimental study ever conducted on this topic, a team of researchers from Rockefeller University headed by Jean-Nicolas Audet and McGill's Louis Lefebvre, have shown that foraging problems requiring overcoming obstacles are the only predictors of brain size and innovative behaviour in the wild.

They also studied two other cognitive traits but did not find them to be associated with innovation rate in the wild. The results of the study -- which included 203 individual animals from 15 species, 13 of which were wild-caught -- integrate observational studies of animal intelligence in the wild and experimental studies in captivity.
The results provide an effective way to study innovations in the lab using appropriate behavioral tasks in controlled conditions, allowing future investigations on their precise neurobiological, psychological, and ecological underpinnings. They now have a more valid model to study the evolution of intelligence.