Monday, January 24, 2011

Dogs V Cats: Which is More Intellegent?

By Steve Pointing
(As Published in the January Edition of The Wool Press)

(Photo Credit: Pic2Face.com)

Scientists at Oxford say that socially active dogs have developed bigger brains than standoffish cats and, as a result, are more intelligent than cats.

In a recent publication in the Journal of the National Academy of Sciences Oxford University researchers stated that dogs are smarter than cats. In fact their study found that all socially active species – including dogs, monkeys, dolphins and horses – have developed larger brains over time than solitary ones like cats, deer and rhinos. But does that settle the long – running debate over the relative intelligence of cats and dogs?

What did the study find?

The Oxford team looked at how 500 species, both living and extinct, have evolved over about 600 million years and found that the ones that lived in social groups had much larger brains, relative to body size, than those species that tend towards self-sufficiency.

Lead researcher Susanna Schultz says that “dogs have always been regarded as more social animals than cats and it appears that social interaction leads to the development of a larger brain”. The Oxford team hypothesises asking do on your own, and brains have evolved accordingly among different species.

What do cat lovers have to say about the findings?

Not surprisingly cat lovers (including our very own ZoĆ« Luxton) do not buy into the Oxford team’s conclusion. “The domestic cat is highly intelligent thanks to its wild ancestry” says Beth Skillings, a vet working with the Cats’ Protection League. “Unlike dogs, they are smart enough to hunt alone and don’t have to depend on others.” Cats are also “very successful at subtly training their owners” by purring, meowing, “and sitting pitifully by their food bowl!”

Have there been previous studies reaching the same conclusion?

Yes – a 2009 study in the journal Animal Cognition also declared that dogs were smarter than cats. This was based on a test which involved dogs and cats pulling on a string to get a reward. Dogs performed better than cats in the test but this doesn’t necessarily “prove” that dogs are smarter than cats. Dogs have bigger brains, but cats have 300 million neurones in their cortex (the “thinking” part of the brain) whereas dogs only have 160 million.

What do neutral observers have to say on the matter?

The general view is that the pet owning public is fairly evenly split on the subject of which species is the more intelligent. About 30% “bark” for the dogs and 40% “yowl” for the cats with the remainder saying that they are equally intelligent. For those who don’t come with a prior bias in favour of one species over the other their view tends to be that cats and dogs are both smart – but in different ways. Come on Falkland Islanders – where would you place your vote?

This article can be viewed here.

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