It’s safe to say that humans are smarter than animals, but a University of Iowa researcher is investigating the extent of that disparity in intelligence.
And, it may not be as great a gap as you suspect, according to UI psychologist Ed Wasserman, who presents his findings at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) meeting February 12 in Chicago.
One cognitive capacity that is vital to human intelligence is the ability to determine whether two or more items are the same or different – a skill the famous American psychologist William James called the very “backbone” of our thinking. If you have two pennies in your left hand and a nickel and a dime in your right hand, then you can correctly report that the two coins in your left hand are the “same” and that the two coins in your right hand are “different.” You can also make similar judgments with any collection of items.
Wasserman’s research shows that baboons and pigeons can do that, too. A recent study by Wasserman and UI graduate student Dan Brooks found that both pigeons and people can learn same-different discriminations with visual stimuli that never repeat from trial to trial, thus proving that simple memorization cannot explain this cognitive feat.