Chimpanzee intelligence determined by genes

Jul 10, 2014
Image: Wikipedia.

A chimpanzee's intelligence is largely determined by its genes, while environmental factors may be less important than scientists previously thought, according to a Georgia State University research study.

The study found that some, but not all, cognitive, or mental, abilities, in chimpanzees depend significantly on the they inherit. The findings are reported in the latest issue of Current Biology.

"Intelligence runs in families," said Dr. William Hopkins, professor in the Center for Behavioral Neuroscience at Georgia State and research scientist in the Yerkes National Primate Research Center at Emory University. "The suggestion here is that genes play a really important role in their performance on tasks while non-genetic factors didn't seem to explain a lot. So that's new."

The role of genes in human intelligence or IQ has been studied for years, but Hopkins' study is among the first to address heritability in in nonhuman primates. Studies have shown that human intelligence is inherited through genes, but social and , such as formal education and socioeconomic status, also play a role and are somewhat confounded with genetic factors. Chimpanzees, which are highly intelligent and genetically similar to humans, do not have these additional socio-cultural influences.

"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," Hopkins said.

The study involved 99 chimpanzees, ranging in age from 9 to 54, who completed 13 designed to test a variety of abilities. Hopkins used quantitative genetics analysis to link the degree of relatedness between the chimpanzees to their similarities or differences in performance on the various cognitive measures to determine whether cognitive performance is inherited in chimpanzees.

Genes were found to play a role in overall cognitive abilities, as well as the performance on tasks in several categories.

Traditionally, researchers studying animal intelligence or animal learning have shared the view that environment and how previous behavior is reinforced affect how animals perform on a particular task.

"In our case, at least, it suggests that purely environmental explanations don't really seem to tell the whole story," Hopkins said. "Genes matter as well."

Hopkins also studied the structure of chimpanzee intelligence to determine whether there were any similarities to the structure of human intelligence.

"We wanted to see if we gave a sample of a large array of tasks," he said, "would we find essentially some organization in their abilities that made sense. The bottom line is that chimp intelligence looks somewhat like the structure of ."

In the future, Hopkins wants to continue the study with an expanded sample size. He would also like to pursue studies to determine which genes are involved in intelligence and various cognitive abilities as well as how genes are linked to variation in the organization of the brain.

Hopkins also would like to determine which genes changed in human evolution that allowed humans to have such advanced intelligence.

Explore further: Identification of gene that influences joint attention in chimpanzees provides insight into autism spectrum disorders

More information: Current Biology, Hopkins et al.: "Chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes) Intelligence is Heritable." www.cell.com/current-biology/a… 0960-9822(14)00677-0

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Intelligence is in the genes, but where?

Oct 02, 2012

(Medical Xpress)—You can thank your parents for your smarts—or at least some of them. Psychologists have long known that intelligence, like most other traits, is partly genetic. But a new study led by psychological scientist ...

Researchers map emotional intelligence in the brain

Jan 22, 2013

A new study of 152 Vietnam veterans with combat-related brain injuries offers the first detailed map of the brain regions that contribute to emotional intelligence – the ability to process emotional information ...

Debunking the IQ myth

May 07, 2013

(Medical Xpress)—You may be more than a single number, according to a team of Western-led researchers. Considered a standard gauge of intelligence, an intelligence quotient (IQ) score doesn't actually provide ...

Recommended for you

Research helps steer mites from bees

Sep 19, 2014

A Simon Fraser University chemistry professor has found a way to sway mites from their damaging effects on bees that care and feed the all-important queen bee.

User comments : 1

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Anda
5 / 5 (1) Jul 11, 2014
Of course... like us... it's our nearest relative, but sadly most humans think we are gods...