• Question: Are monkeys equally as smart as we are? because i have seen programs showing them using tools.

    Asked by kenny13 to Aggelos, Andrew, Eileen, Naomi, Shane on 16 Nov 2012.
    • Photo: Naomi Elster

      Naomi Elster answered on 16 Nov 2012:

      Monkeys are very, very intelligent animals. I have seen them using tools in the zoo, and some monkeys – like gorillas for example – have very complex societies. I don’t believe that they are as smart as we are, but I believe that they are close. If you look at the tools they make and use you will see that they are more basic than the tools we have, or even the tools that archaeologists found in stone age sites. But to use tools shows that they are very advanced indeed, and actually, I remember learning that monkey brains are very similar to our own in terms of how they are organised – they are quite complex.

      It’s hard to decide how we define intelligence. Monkeys survive quite well in environments we probably couldn’t survive in. They use tools, communicate with each other, and have highly evolved social structures. Dolphins are said to have a similar IQ to humans. But we are the only species who have evolved to develop and use technology, and we may be the only species to think about “deep” things like art, philosophy and politics. Does this make us smarter?

    • Photo: Andrew Jackson

      Andrew Jackson answered on 17 Nov 2012:

      Its very hard to compare intelligences of animals. The problem is that we keep comparing animals to ourselves and expect them to do what we do: speak, write, use tools etc… Most animals dont have vocal chords so could never speak unless they evolve the right vocal chords first, and many others couldnt hold a pen to write! Often though, we devise tests to see how good animals are at solving problems and there are some surprising animals that pop out in these tests.

      Monkeys and Apes are both primates – and sorry Naomi, but gorillas are apes not monkeys :). Pretty much all primates are pretty clever by any standard, and many are very good problem solvers and many use tools like sticks to poke ants out of their nest and eat them. Crows have been seen to use stones to raise the height of water using archimedes principal in order to get at floating food in a tube that they couldnt reach until they added stones to the water. Some dolphins also use sticks to get food from hard to reach places.

      Some recent experiments have shown that humans solve most new problems by trial and error like other primates, but that we seem to remember the sequence of events better the next time we see the same task. So, our clever problem solving skills might not be all that much better than the other primates after all!

    • Photo: Eileen Diskin

      Eileen Diskin answered on 18 Nov 2012:

      Great question, and one that is really interesting to think about. I guess it depends on how we want to define ‘smart’. As humans, we’re pretty smart – we can write, talk, make cool things like mobile phones and video games…but then we also do some things that aren’t very smart. We pollute our environment MUCH more than any other animal…so does this make us less smart than other animals?