how do scientists come to the conclusion that certain animals have the intelligence of a ____ year old?

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I hear an octopus has the intelligence of a 7 year old or a monkey is as smart as a 5 year old….. how they figure that out.

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Anonymous 0 Comments

There are many different types of cognitive test you can give a person or an animal, things like sorting objects based on color or shape, figuring out how to get a treat out of a jar, remembering which jar has a treat in it after a long time, etc. We have a pretty solid baseline for how humans perform on these types of tests, what age a child has to be to realize they need to stop standing on the rug in order to pick up the rug, etc, so if we give the test to an animal and they can do a task that a human generally needs to be at least 7 years old in order to do, then we might say “this animal has intelligence equivalent to a 7 year old child”.

One critical thing to understand however is that not all skills develop in a uniform way. So we might have an octopus that can say, unlock puzzles that would stump a 6 year old, but can’t remember which cup has a treat hidden in it as well as a 3 year old (as a made up example). In a case like this the comparison to humans becomes kind of obviously silly. Different brains are optimized for different types of task, and finding an animal that matched to humans on everything is very unlikely. It wouldn’t be at all surprising to find an animal that was better at some types of memory or thinking tasks than a human was.

Anonymous 0 Comments

Intelligence is incongruent. Some animals are very good at one aspect of intelligence, like puzzle solving, and others aren’t, but are very good at language adaptation. Others have great dexterity — a trait that generally goes down with the strength most animals are known for — and others still have social intelligence. Biology basically says brain matter is ‘expensive’. It needs a lot of foodfuel, so any animals within the food chain typically don’t explode in universal competence until they’re doing quite well, AND would do better if they were smarter.

Sharks, for example, do great even though they’re dumb as hell, and haven’t changed in millions of year.

So any statements that compare human children are usually only comparing partial factors, like particular aspects one might see in a child.

Anonymous 0 Comments

We understand the intellectual development of children very well; the body of research is thorough. We know at what age kids develop the ability to use abstract thought, when they can start thinking from someone else’s perspective, when they start considering consequences of now actions, before actions, and future actions – etc etc.

When we observe animals in the wild, or test them in captivity, we can begin to understand the animal’s intelligence and an easy gauge is to compare them to the cognitive ability of humans.

This has its limitations because for creatures like octopuses that demonstrate a level of intelligence far higher than what we understand *within the environment* they live in. They have 9 brains, their front two legs think independently from one another. They can see through their skin. They can solve puzzles we give them pretty easily, but so could a chimp – saying a an octopus has the intelligence of any hominid in any stage of life would stretch the analogy too far.

Anonymous 0 Comments

They give the animals and small children tests and see how they solve them.

If they don’t have object permanence (knowing something is still there even if they can’t see it) thats about equivalent to a less than 7 month old human child.

If they know how to use tools, then that’s about equivalent to a 2 year old child.

We have studied lots of children so we know when their brains develop these skills.