An analysis of the distribution of degrees of intelligence across animal groups
June 4, 2018 - September 2, 2020
Core Funding Area:
What different forms of intelligence are found in different animals? Answering this question with precision requires a way to quantify and compare degrees of intelligence across species.
This project endeavors to develop such a method. By using a common battery of tests on rats, mice, and bees, the project will produce new insights into the intelligences of both mammals and insects.
In the study, animals receive two learning tasks in which stimuli are either rewarded and punished. In the first, immediately before the trial they see a cue trial that gives them the information needed to find the reward. In the second, trials occur in a predictable sequence, allowing the animals to use the sequence information to find the reward in a specific trial. Species can solve these tasks only if they learn to apply the available contextual information to a trial.
Such tasks are easy for humans, but can a rat or mouse solve them? Can an insect? Quantitative comparisons of these species' performance will reveal their abilities to adaptively solve problems using gathered information—in other words, their intelligence.
Methodology and Outputs
The project will compare how many trials it takes for them to learn the tasks and how well they learn. It will also analyze changes in speed and accuracy to explore whether animals adaptively vary their attention while learning. This will enable objective comparisons of intelligence among species with diverse brains and evolutionary histories. After this two-year project, Dr. Barron intends to expand his study to include other species: birds, fish, and octopuses. The end result will map intelligence across the a wide range of animal life to understand the diversity of intelligence and how it has evolved.
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