compare the cognitive abilities of rhyming animals to something?

A study praised the intelligence of the Malinois, despite many prejudices. In general, this raises the question of whether it is meaningless to compare animals in this way.

Belgian Shepherd Malinois with a woman by the sea ©BelgaImage

Which dog is the smartest? It’s a question that comes up from time to time in the scientific press, and the border collie is often the winner. This is not the opinion of the University of Helsinki, which has just published an article on the subject in the popular journal Nature. According to him, Malinois is the smartest breed in the world. Something to please Belgium, the country of origin! A conclusion that the Finnish researchers did not avoid justifying. However, the approach raises questions. In recent years, several scientists have questioned the desire to categorize animals based on their presumed intelligence and urged caution.

Malinois good overall score

To conduct the study, the University of Helsinki had 1,002 dogs face ten problems taken from a type of dog IQ test, the smartDOG test. Seven of them focused on performing cognitive tasks, while others focused more on behavioral approaches. For example, they had to interpret human gestures, pass through a transparent fence, quickly ask a human for help when the mission could not be solved, etc.

Finally, “no significant differences were identified in tasks measuring memory or logical reasoning“, researchers note.”Therefore, differences emerged mainly in measures of social cognition, problem solving, and inhibitory control.“. Thus, the Malinois gained an advantage during certain basic tests, for example, when crossing a V-shaped obstacle and interpreting human gestures. However, it was one of the least effective in the cylinder test (where the border collie remains the undisputed master). “Most races had their strengths and weaknesses“, the author of the study tells BBC Saara Junttila.

But overall, the winner is the Malinois. As the Daily Mail points out, the rest of the podium consists of border collies and hovawarts.

Many biases

For Finnish scientists, their article “is one of the few studies looking at individual differences between dog breeds, particularly non-social cognitive traits that are rarely studied in this context.“. So they are quite satisfied, and yet they admit that the experiment has its limits. The first big drawback: they only studied 13 different breeds, which is very few when you know that the International Cynological Federation has about 370.

Researchers admit: study “does not represent the entire dog population“. They further note that several biases may have skewed the results. One, “results may vary by country and culture“. The article mentions that “it is possible that the differences observed in our study are based on variations in life experiences or training rather than genetic differences between breeds”. “We couldn’t because we didn’t have that information. Therefore, the extent of their possible effects on racial differences in our study is unknown,” the researchers said, promising to investigate this question in the future.

To read: How our emotions are transmitted to animals

The second concern: “certain types of owners and dogs were inevitably self-selecting“Trouble when you know there are selected races”it was mainly used in dog sports“, and”Most of the owners were active in various dog sports or competitions“. The authors of the article also note that 45% of the Malinois tested were police dogs.may have biased racial differences in our study“, although they claim to have taken measures to limit this effect.

Finally, it turns out that especially similar breeds, such as the Golden Retriever and the Labrador Retriever, can produce completely different results. The concern is that many studies are interested in “gender groups“and not”individual breeds“.”Our results therefore highlight the importance of studying behavioral differences between individual sexes rather than relying solely on sex-group classification.This was reported by the University of Helsinki.

Measuring intelligence, the opposite of an anthropocentric view of the animal world?

All these elements strengthen the results of this study, which does not prevent the Finnish researchers from defending their approach. “Although this limits the generalizability of our results, it is important to note that despite the similarity of the participating dogs and their training backgrounds, significant breed differences emerged.“, they note.

However, this study is part of a larger discussion: is it really a good idea to want to measure the alleged intelligence of different dogs? For many years, several researchers have wanted to do this, often replacing the term “intelligence” with the concept of “cognition”. In 2016, researchers from the London School of Economics (LSE) and the University of Edinburgh, for example, experimented with border collies to develop a canine IQ test.really reliable“Others wanted to prove that cats could exist”smart as dogs“. The same when comparing with other animals.

To read: Animal intelligence: what science teaches us

But does it all make sense? For the famous primatologist Franz de Waal, we are too quick to judge animals by our own human standards. “It’s more complicated“, he declares to America’s ABC network. For example, a chimpanzee may be perfectly successful in an imitation test if it sees one of its offspring perform a task, but not if it sees a human doing it. For Frans De Wall, the issue becomes more difficult with animals that are distant from humans, such as octopuses.” .This animal has a distributed nervous system and therefore we cannot compare human intelligence or mammalian intelligence to the octopus because it is a very different creature.“.

In short, the desire to measure the intelligence of such and such an animal will amount to an anthropocentric worldview in which humans will return everything to themselves. The reality is that each species has its own cognitive abilities. For example, a person can do things that others can’t do, but he can also fail where others have succeeded very well. “I think we should judge animals on their own terms“, the primatologist believes.”Is the octopus smarter than the rat or the monkey? Not really a good question. The question is: ‘What does an octopus do in his life, what should he do and does he have the mind to do it?’“.

To read: “Primates are twice as good as humans”

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