Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Hyenas cooperate, but do we?

First of all, I think the history of this article is a great example of how we tend to overlook things about animals that aren't what we expect them to be. We focus so much on our nearest relations in the animal kingdom, sometimes we blind ourselves to the ones that aren't so closely related, but are still capable of so many amazing and BRILLIANT things. We give other animals that aren't chimps and gorillas short shrift because they're not human-like. Because they're not "as smart" as the others.

The line that really caught me, was this:

Researchers have focused on primates for decades with an assumption that higher cognitive functioning in large-brained animals should enable organized teamwork. But Drea's study demonstrates that social carnivores, including dogs, may be very good at cooperative problem solving, even though their brains are comparatively smaller.

If you want to talk about brain size, maybe we should be looking at whales and elephants. I don't think that it's the answer to the question of intelligence, honestly. I don't think we're really able to measure intelligence effectively, either. What is "smartest"? Smartest at a set task, at a set series of tasks, but until we're able to really understand the mind of the animal, I don't think we're ever really going to know who REALLY IS the smartest.

And that same above quote made me stop and reflect on human behavior. The part about the assumption involving primates as large-brained animals and organized teamwork. I think at some point we really get too smart for teamwork. We don't want to teach other people what we can do, and we don't want to ask for help or give help. And look at us! We fight amongst ourselves instead of cooperating.

I mean, just look at this argument over health care, or all the anti-communist, anti-socialist propaganda. We don't want to cooperate. We don't want to share. We, as big brained animals, want to hoard resources for ourselves, and show off our superiority to others. Why on earth should we expect other big-brained animals to cooperate when we can't be bothered with it ourselves, UNLESS it suits our personal agendas?

Maybe that's a cynical outlook, and an over-generalization. I mean, I know, on the one hand, that it is. But on the other hand, we as a species, while we communicate well enough, still haven't bridged the communication gap between sexes. We haven't bridged the communications gaps between languages and countries and cultures. We communicate, but we don't really understand.

I think this proof that other animals are more effective at cooperating maybe sheds some light on the human "loner". Maybe, even though we have a big brain, we just aren't really PROGRAMMED for cooperation to the same extent. Maybe, in spite of our bigger-brains, we still have something we can learn about that from species "lower" on the brain totem pole.

I don't know if any of that made sense, but I hope it at least made someone, somewhere, think.


  1. Somehow, I'm surprised that this hasn't been touched on by previous research.
    Many canines are famous for their social structures and ability to hunt together.

  2. The researcher of the article said she/he did the research some time ago, but no one was interested in it because they only cared about primates at the time, so she/he could not get it published. THAT kind of horrifies me.

  3. That's really, really sad.

    I've always been a bit more interested in canines than primates because of the very topic this article explores.

  4. I'm starting to wonder if we need to take a closer look at pack animals. And I think that though humans are SOCIAL animals, we aren't pack animals by any means. I don't think primates are either. But why is that? I mean, does that mean we're closer to "herd" animals than "pack" animals? What's the line, and what are the nuances?


Comments are Love!

(Nota Bene: During #NAMEthatBUTT season, all comments are moderated and your guesses are hidden until after the butt is revealed!)