What Are Animal Intelligence Tests?

November 23, 2018
By using animal intelligence, you can figure out what's going on inside an animal's mind when they face certain challenges.

Most people know that animals are intelligent beings and their abilities are different from species to species. There is a science which studies their intellectual capacities. In this article, you can learn how they do this by using animal intelligence tests.

What are animal intelligence tests?

This scientific discipline is a combination of comparative psychology, ethology, and behavioral ecology. Each one of these fields uses experiences and methods to try to better figure out what’s going on inside the minds of animals when faced with different challenges.

Animal intelligence tests consist of giving different animals small challenges and observing how they act. The design of the test depends on the species they’re studying. However, it’s quite the opposite to other forms of animal testing, scientists don’t touch or manipulate the animals in any way what’s so ever. They just observe their reactions.

Intelligence tests cause no harm to the animals. At most, they could be a little confused at first about the problem they have to solve. The animals act freely and the job of the scientists is to observe their behavior.

There are many different types of test that depend on what animal they want to study. They could be studying how they co-operate, how quickly they learn, their memory capacity, or how they see color. It also depends on the species under observation because it’s impossible to design the same experiment for a dog as for a hamster!

History of animal intelligence tests

This scientific discipline began during the 20th Century, although advances in human psychology in the 50s greatly aided its development.

Rat in a maze

In the beginning, the results of animal intelligence tests were interpreted as a demonstration of animals’ actions and reactions. That is to say, they saw the behavior as being mechanical. When faced with a situation, the animal would learn to react in a certain way.

However, decades later, the idea was introduced that perhaps animals were reflecting and not simply reacting. This applied the concept of the “mind” and scientists began changing the designs of their experiences to study what the animals were capable of thinking.

They also changed the way they collected data. Although many experiments are short and last hours or a couple of days, at the end of the 20th Century, they began to develop studies that last for years. Since then, they’ve broadened the range of animals under observation. They started with monkeys and dogs, but currently, they even study fish and insects.

An example of an animal intelligence test

There are multiple different animal intelligence tests, although many are based on the same starting point. Mazes or Skinner boxes are the most repeated ones of all, and they are used to create other tests.

Dog and some animal intelligence tests

Skinner boxes were a tool used to try and teach the animal to perform an action, like push a lever or a button. Each time the animal repeated the action, they would receive food. After proving that the animals were learning, variations of this test were applied.

To measure a sense of justice among monkeys, an experiment that invlolved placing boxes together that all look similar. The monkeys in each box triggered a lever and would receive a reward. However, one would always receive a better reward than the other monkeys. These animals would observe that the monkey that received the worse reward got angry and their companion would begin to share their treat with him. This way, scientists were able to prove that these animals were sensing injustice.

To study the ability to co-operate, scientists have used a modified Skinner box. Two animals could only access the food if both animals pulled on a cord at the same time. This test has been put into practice with several different species. The animals that problem solved the fastest were parrots, elephants, and wolves. However, dogs were not able to get the reward.

There are many different types of animal intelligence tests. They measure the abilities or capacities of different species of animal. Although traditionally they have been used to study mammals, there are also studies on insects, octopuses, fish, and birds.