A new study indicates that chimpanzees get half of their intelligence through genes, while the other half comes from environmental factors.
Research done by Atlanta’s Yerkes National Primate Research Center shows how the chimps don’t get their intelligence by mimicking other chimps, but instead it is passed down from genes, just like humans. The genes play an important role in the way a chimpanzee performs activities, the study says.
“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,” Dr. William Hopkins, professor in the Center for Behavioral Neuroscience at Georgia State, said.
Up until 1985, animal behavior was studied, rather than animal intelligence. However, in the last several decades, various pieces of research have indicated that animals are actually capable of cognition, although the reasons behind it were a bit of a mystery.
In this new study, scientists worked with 99 chimpanzees, between the ages of 9 to 54, at the Yerkes Primate Center, in Atlanta. They gave the chimps a number of cognitive tests that were designed to test a chimp’s abilities. The tests measured how well each individual chip could use tools, each chimp’s social ability, their individual spatial memory, and more.
“We have what we would call a smart chimp, and chimps we’d call not so smart,” said Hopkins. “We were able to explain a lot of that variability by who was related to each other.”
The researchers also created a genetic pedigree of the chimps, which shows how they are all related to each other. Just about half of a chimp’s performance on the cognitive tests could be attributed to their relatedness, the study found. It was also found that neither the sex or the way the chimp was raised had any impact on its performance.
The conclusion that the study made was that in the age-old argument of nature vs. nurture, it appears as if nature matters more.
In the future, the researchers plan doing similar tests on a colony of chimps, as well as getting brain scans of the chimps in the hopes of learning even more about how genes relay intelligence.
The study was published in the latest issue of Current Biology.