Bigger Brain's Best, Study Finds Animals With Larger Brains Are Best Problem Solvers

First Posted: Jan 26, 2016 12:32 PM EST

Does brain size matter? We've all heard that species with brains that are large relative to their body tend to be more intelligent than others. In the study, researchers conducted an extensive experiment, which proves that carnivore species with larger brain sizes are the best problem solvers.  

"This study offers a rare look at problem solving in carnivores, and the results provide important support for the claim that brain size reflects an animal's problem-solving abilities-and enhance our understanding of why larger brains evolved in some species," Sarah Benson-Amram, lead author of the study from the University of Wyoming, said in a news release.

In order to carry out their study, the researchers visited nine zoos, where they presented 140 animals from 39 different mammalian carnivore species with a novel problem-solving task. These animals included spotted hyenas, tigers, river otters, wolves, polar bears and arctic foxes. Each animal had 30 minutes to get food out of a closed metal box.  The animal needed to slide a bolt latch, which would open the door to the box, which contained the animal's favorite food. Red pandas were given bamboo, while snow leopards received steak.

The researchers found that species with larger brains relative to their body size were more successful compared to species with relatively smaller brains.

"Overall, 35 percent of animals (49 individuals from 23 species) were successful in solving the problem," said Ben Dantzer, coauthor of the study. "The bears were the most successful, solving the problem almost 70 percent of the time. Meerkats and mongooses were the least successful, with no individuals from their species solving the problem."

The findings of this study were published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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