Orangutan News: Study Says “Social Orangutans Are More Intelligent Than Solitary Orangutans”

photo from the Orangutan Conservancy archives
photo from the Orangutan Conservancy archives

by Alex Berezow for American Council On Science And Health

Though reality TV would seem to challenge the notion, highly social creatures tend to be more intelligent than non-social creatures. The reason is because it takes brain power to communicate and thrive in a society. A successful wolf, for instance, must be bright enough to pick up on behavioral cues from the alpha male and to understand his place in the social hierarchy.

Cognitive scientists believe that social learning — i.e., learning behaviors from others — enhances an animal’s ability to learn new things by itself. In other words, social intelligence helps promote individual intelligence. This idea, called the cultural intelligence hypothesis, also has a corollary: Social species should have evolved to be better at problem-solving than related, non-social species.

A team of mostly Swiss researchers put this hunch to the test by studying how two different species of orangutan responded to various intellectual challenges. In total, the authors examined 33 zoo-dwelling orangutans, 19 of which were Sumatran (a more social species) and 14 of which were Bornean (a more solitary species). Their prediction was that the Sumatran orangutans would be more clever.

This excerpt from a news article appeared in and is courtesy of the American Council On Science And Health and can be read in its entirety here.

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