Chimps' Intelligence is Determined by their Genes

First Posted: Jul 11, 2014 05:56 AM EDT

Chimpanzees are perceived to be the cognitively most advanced animals and this intelligence is largely determined by genes, and not environmental factors, a new study reveals.

Researchers at the Georgia State University, evaluated 99 chimps aged between 9-54 years and found that they inherited some of the cognitive or mental abilities from their parents. Studies conducted earlier have looked at the role of genes in human intelligence, this is the first study that looked at the heritability of intelligence in non-human primates.

"Intelligence runs in families," said Dr. William Hopkins, professor in the Center for Behavioral Neuroscience at Georgia State and research scientist in the Yerkes National Primate Research Center at Emory University. "The suggestion here is that genes play a really important role in their performance on tasks while non-genetic factors didn't seem to explain a lot. So that's new."

In the case of humans, studies have shown that intelligence is inherited from genes, but at the same time other factors like educations and socioeconomic status, social and environmental factors play an equal role. But, chimps - who are considered the most intelligent animals in the world - are genetically similar to humans, the extra socio-cultural influences is absent.

"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," Hopkins said.

In this study, the researchers made 99 chimps complete 13 cognitive tasks that were designed to test a variety of abilities. Using quantitative genetics analysis, Hopkins associated the degree of similarity between the chimps to their similarity or difference in performance on several cognitive measures, to determine whether or not cognitive performance is inherited in chimps.

They noticed that genes played a significant role in overall cognitive abilities as well as in the performance of tasks under various categories.

The researchers also studied the structure of the chimpanzee's intelligence in order to determine if it was similar to the human intelligence. In the future, researchers want to determine which genes are involved in intelligence as well as various cognitive abilities.

The finding was documented in Current Biology.

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