Animals Can’t Take An IQ Test

by Brendan James

Jessica Love complains about the way we rank animal intelligence:

The problem is that though some animals laze in Chicago apartments, others dwell in rural pastures or factory farms or rainforest canopies or 1,000 feet underwater. Some animals live in small groups, others in solitude, and still others in flocks thousands strong. Just last week I learned that a limiting factor for tool use—the smoking gun of animal intelligence—may well be physical dexterity: the dumb, lucky ability to clamp or poke or push things around with some precision. Ranking the intelligence of animals born into such different environments, family units, and bodies is as futile as it is irresistible.

Nor is it unproblematic that we humans have a complete monopoly on IQ test design and implementation. As the Emory University primatologist Frans de Waal recently described, this has led to a number of anthropocentric mishaps: testing whether elephant-sized elephants could identify their own reflections inside human-sized mirrors, or investigating facial recognition in primates using human faces rather than primate ones. Whoops.