A recent study on chimpanzee intelligence done by researchers from the Yerkes National Primate Research Center in Atlanta revealed that half of chimpanzee’s intelligence is due to genes and the other half is due to environmental factors.
“Chimps offer a really simple way of thinking about how genes might influence intelligence without, in essence, the baggage of these other mechanisms that are confounded with genes in research on human intelligence,” Dr. William Hopkins, professor in the Center for Behavioral Neuroscience at Georgia State, said.
The role of genes in human intelligence has been a subject of research for very long but Hopkins’ study is among the first dealing with the heritability in cognitive abilities in nonhuman primates.
The study was conducted on 99 chimpanzees, ranging in age from 9 to 54, who completed 13 cognitive tasks designed to test a variety of abilities. The chimps belonged to a big family tree, with some being full siblings and some having fourth to fifth cousins.
There were two types of tasks that they discovered could be passed on through the genes; one was spatial cognition, which makes humans able to manage easy and challenging cognitive tasks in daily life; and dealing with the physical environment. The researchers observed some chimps making kissing sounds and clapping their hands for attention.
“This one is a real measure of intelligence and innovative behavior,” Hopkins said.
Hopkins also went through the structure of chimpanzee intelligence to determine any possibilities of finding any similarities to the structure of human intelligence.
“We wanted to see if we gave a sample of chimpanzees a large array of tasks,” he said, “would we find essentially some organization in their abilities that made sense. The bottom line is that chimp intelligence looks somewhat like the structure of human intelligence.”
“In the impoverished and stereotyped setting of long-term captivity, the critical influence of environmental variability could be markedly blunted,” Ajit Varki, professor of medicine from the University of California in San Diego said.
The findings are reported in the latest issue of Current Biology in the July 10 issue.