You know that age-old argument dog people and cat people can’t ever seem to agree on? The one about whether dogs or cats are smarter? Well, we may finally have an answer! (Spoiler alert: I’m pretty stoked, as a dog person.) According to a new study by Oxford University, researchers have discovered extreme differences in how the brains of different mammals have evolved over time. The study notes there is a link between the level of social interaction of mammals and the size of their brain relative to their body size.
Lead author Dr. Susanne Shultz said, “Cooperation and coordination for group living can be challenging.” Isn’t that the truth? Over time, mammal brains have evolved and increased in size to keep up with the demands of being social. It’s a common belief that brain size has increased in all mammals, but researchers are suggesting that highly social species, such as dogs, have developed larger brains faster than solitary species, such as cats. “It is interesting to see that even animals that have contact with humans, like cats, have much smaller brains than dogs and horses because of their lack of sociability,” said co-author Professor Robin Dunbar.
Researchers took available data about brain size and body size of living mammals and compared it with similar data from fossilized remains of mammals of the same lineage. They examined changes in proportions within lineages, and then compared across lineages to identify if there were significant changes in some mammals over others. Just keep in mind this research is targeting changes in brain size relative to body size as evidence.
In case you’re not convinced yet, check out this article published by the LA Times in 2009. The conclusion that dogs are smarter is also backed, but with different methods. It described a cover story by New Scientist magazine discussing the divide between cats and dogs. Not surprisingly, it’s a pretty small divide. Eleven categories were created to “pit the animals against each other.” After the first 10 categories were completed, including problem solving (dogs win!) and vocalization (cats win), cats and dogs were tied. The final category was utility – how useful are they? Well, while cats are cute and (sometimes) cuddly, the only utility they were found to provide was companionship and the ability to protect a home from rats and other small, icky creatures. Dogs, however, lead the blind, sniff out drugs and landmines, search for crash victims, and much more. Plus, dog is man’s best friend. There’s really no better feeling than walking outside for 10 seconds to get the morning paper and having your dog be so excited (it’s like you’ve been gone for years!) when you walk back inside.
I do not think these findings apply to all dogs though as I seem to own one of the lesser intelligent of the animals.
Check out this video by New Scientist: Dogs versus Cats