Animal scientists currently believe that the number of cells an animal’s brain has is a good indicator of processing power. A new study took a closer look at the brains of dogs, cats, and other carnivorous animals.
An international research team, overseen by a Vanderbilt University professor, studied the number of cortical neurons found in the brains of several different animals. The team examined the outer layers of the brains of several carnivorous animals, including those of cats and dogs, finally putting an end to the debate over which species is smarter.
According to a recent article published by Business Insider, the researchers believe that the “number of cortical neurons signifies the richness of an animal’s mental state.” The information gathered could roughly translate into intelligence, which is an integral part of the notorious dog versus cat debate.
Suzana Herculano-Houzel, associate professor of psychology and biological sciences at Vanderbilt, oversaw the research study. She had the following to say.
“I believe the absolute number of neurons an animal has, especially in the cerebral cortex, determines the richness of their internal mental state and their ability to predict what is about to happen in their environment based on past experience.”
The researchers took a close look at the brains of eight species of carnivores: ferret, mongoose, raccoon, cat, dog, hyena, lion, and brown bear.
The research paper, scheduled to be published in the journal Frontiers in Neuroanatomy, states that the actual size of the brain does not relate directly to intelligence. The research team found that, although larger than that of a cat or raccoon, the brown bear’s brain has approximately the same number of cortical neurons.
The results of the study indicated that dogs have roughly double the number of cortical neurons than cats. In fact, the golden retriever’s brain has “more neurons than a hyena, lion or brown bear.”
The team hypothesized that the brains of carnivores should have a “higher number of cortical neurons than the herbivores they prey upon.” Their initial thoughts proved to be incorrect. The results indicated that the “ratio of neurons to brain in small and medium-sized carnivores” is actually approximately the same as the brains of herbivores. The study results indicate that evolution has pressured the herbivores to develop enough intelligence to escape the grasp of the carnivores who hunt them.
It is doubtful that the dog versus cat debate will end here. However, the results of this new study surely give dog lovers more ammunition. In a paper released by Vanderbilt University, Professor Herculano-Houzel stated that the “findings show that dogs are more biologically capable of doing more complex and flexible things than cats.”