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Studies show animals have more cognitive and emotional lives than humans believe

Edited by Sonious
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A recent study conducted at Harvard University (scientific paper) to examine working visual memory found that an African grey parrot was able to outperform 6-8-year-old human children. That might not be so amazing on its own — research has already shown various bird species to perform on par with human children — if it weren't for the third group in the comparison. The parrot also performed equally or better than a group of 18-30-year-old undergraduate students in 12/14 trials.

This is just one in a long list of studies showing that animals have vastly more complicated intellectual and emotional lives than they have traditionally been given credit for. Previously, Flayrah has also covered how Chaser, a border collie, learned over 1000 words and was able to understand them in complex ways, how dolphins in Shark Bay, Australia, demonstrate not only tool use but cultural transmission of tool use and advanced communication abilities in corvids. Recent work with Chimpanzees has shown not only the extent of their tool use but also how techniques for fishing out termites are culturally transmitted and that chimpanzees that move to a new group, adopt the techniques of the new group rather than their old method.

Despite this, we see alarming stories of callous and cruel treatment of animals. Lynley Tulloch writes that, during lockdown, "it would seem that ‘kindness’ did not cross the species barrier like Covid -19 did." This is as she talks about how, partly guided by the words of the New Zealand government, people have been killing various animals, particularly those seen as pests or invasive. Despite it being illegal, there are many reports of people drowning various animals, ostensibly to help wildlife. A video actually demonstrated this by drowning a rat.

At this point, I feel it necessary to remind everyone that rats are intelligent, highly social animals. Not only is there evidence of empathy in rats, they will take action to assist fellow rats in distress, but they will also modify their own behaviour to avoid harming other rats. Last year, scientists demonstrated that rats would learn to play hide and seek, not for a food reward but to be tickled and just for the love of playing with humans. We may not always get along but these are not mindless creatures that we can just drown because we don't like them.

At times, animals are not only mistreated but their ability to think and feel is dismissed entirely by people who should know better. The Ontario Federation of Agriculture recently made a submission to the government that claims we do not know if animals are capable of reasoning or cognitive thought. This is in direct opposition to what the science shows. It's been eight years since an international group of neuroscientists signed The Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness which explicitly stated that "non-human animals, including all mammals and birds, and many other creatures, including octopuses" possess everything necessary for consciousness.

Members of the furry fandom should have a greater connection to animals than the average person. Animals are an intrinsic and essential aspect of the fandom. I feel that we cannot just appropriate their appearances and then turn our backs when they are suffering. We do a great job in donating to various animal charities but I feel that we should also speak up for them and defend them when they need us. We can not continue to view animals as inferior or lesser creatures whose lives and suffering count for less than our own whims. We must look at them as intelligent and emotional beings who may be different but who are just as valuable in their own way. Our fellow passengers in the journey of life.


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Animals are more intelligent than I thought! They seem to be able to be smart on a similar level to us. If only we just gave them a chance.

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Either that or having computers do our problem solving is making us dumber as a species in solving certain problems.

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I'm not sure dumber is the right word. There has been a shift from recalling specific pieces of information to recalling where to find that information. That's not necessarily a bad thing, it's just a different way of doing things. There does need to be a minimum amount that people remember if they are going to be able to really think things through though.

"If all mankind minus one, were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person, than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind."
~John Stuart Mill~

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Very pleasant article!

Unfortunately non-human animals will continue to be mistreated as long as in-vitro living tissue is not more cost-effective than stockbreeding / fishing / etc. Animal by-products are extremely useful. Regulations attempt to make the industry more humane, but there is profit in stressing the livestock and no means for the animals to sue.

I truly believe this is an issue only science will solve eventually. As it stands right now, the killing of some species while protecting others is borderline arbitrary and morally inconsistent. There are definitely many non-human animals more cognizant than some humans.

Another matter entirely is whether house cats deserve any sympathy.

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These were Harvard undergrads doing those memory tests, right? Not being able to recall may have been a key component of fitness in their parents' natural environment...

As treating non-human animals more sympathetically: given how readily we tend to treat our fellow man as inferior, I doubt dissolving the bright line between us and the animal kingdom will make much difference. If anything, popularizing their abilities could encourage the view that it is "us or them" - the species pitted against one another in a global battle. Which was essentially the situation millennia before.

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I don't recall what you are talking about -

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One thing which might be of interest relating to this topic is education. When we compare people and animals in terms of intelligence, it's not really a fair comparison. Even ignoring the biases that might be in the tests, humans spend a lot of time in school and further learning how to approach certain problems. So it's hard to really sort out what is learned versus what is innate. Obviously an educated human will do better than one who has never been to school. Or we're just wasting years of our lives.

When it comes to Griffin the parrot or Chaser the border collie, who are doing this amazing feats, we need to ask ourselves whether they are exceptional animals. I'm not sure that is the case. So why are they able to do so much more than others of their species? It's probably that they've had better teachers. Many birds sit in a cage, often alone, and talk to a mirror all day. Few people are teaching their birds to speak, at least beyond repeating phrases. The same with dogs. Some get no training and others learn a few words and commands but not many owners will try to teach them 1000 words and basic grammar. I think a large part is opportunity and teaching, rather than exceptional animals.

That's what also makes experiments with wild animals really interesting. If they are able to solve complicated puzzles without extensive training, it gives an even better idea of what is possible. And I think that largely people haven't looked for animal intelligence. Either various animals only started using tools in the last few decades, which seems like a large coincidence, or they were doing it and we just weren't paying attention. The more we pay attention, the more I think we will see.

"If all mankind minus one, were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person, than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind."
~John Stuart Mill~

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About the author

Rakuen Growlitheread storiescontact (login required)

a scientist and Growlithe from South Africa, interested in science, writing, pokemon and gaming

I'm a South African fur, originally from Cape Town. I'm interested in science, writing, gaming, all sorts of furry stuff, Pokemon and some naughtier things too! I've dabbled in art before but prefer writing. You can find my fiction on SoFurry and non-fiction on Flayrah.