BY STEVEN SPARKMAN
ANCHOR CHRISTINA HARTMAN
You're watching multisource science video news analysis from Newsy.
How do you give an elephant an IQ test? There haven’t been many mental tests of the world’s largest land animal, mostly because -- well -- they’re the world’s largest land animal. But ABC shows a new test that ranks elephants on par with chimps.
“Researchers in Thailand came up with an unusual test to measure elephants’ capacity for teamwork, a benchmark of intelligence. … They threaded rope around a platform. On that platform: buckets of corn, a reward. If one of the elephants tugs on the other end of the rope alone, no reward. But if they pull in unison, they’re both rewarded.”
The researchers noted it’s hard to tell if an animal understands what it’s doing or if it’s just responding to training. So after the elephants learned to pull together, the researchers threw them a few curve balls.
The researchers started releasing one elephant before the other. The elephants quickly learned they had to wait, standing patiently until their partner caught up. Next, they put one end of the rope out of the second elephant’s reach. The first elephant didn’t even bother pulling, once they realized their partner couldn’t help. (Video source: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences)
The researchers claim this is strong evidence elephants really understand cooperation. That puts them in the upper echelons of animal intelligence. Ars Technica explains how some of their competitors fared at similar tests.
“Experiments with corvids, hyenas, and capuchin monkeys showed that these species either failed to complete the task, or left questions as to whether or not the animals understood the role of their partner. While there is still much left to figure out, elephants may rival apes in their ability to perform and understand cooperative tasks.”
Figuring out how animals think isn’t just a way to rank them from smartest to dumbest. It also gives clues to how humans and wild animals can get along when forced to live side by side. Care2 points out other elephant studies that could prove useful.
“Related elephant studies have shown elephants are afraid of some ants, and that fear could be used to keep them away from crops, so they don’t cause damage... Another elephant study found African elephants are afraid of bees, and avoid the hives. So it might be possible someday to strategically blend agriculture with bee hives to repel elephants also.”
Finally, if you don’t think cooperation proves intelligence, how about cheating?
One elephant outsmarted the researchers when she figured out she could just stand on her end of the rope and let her partner do all the work. (PNAS)
Give us your take on these elephant Einsteins in our comments section.
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