When it comes to animals, the concept of how bigger brains means better problem solving capabilities was more or less common knowledge. But due to the results coming from a study conducted at the University of Wyoming, this concept has gained scientific backing as well, or at least, in regards to carnivorous animals.
The test itself consisted of a metal box containing foods preferred by each and every individual species encompassed by the study. 140 animals from 39 different species were studied carefully, giving each subject 30 minutes to remove food from the metal box. Arctic foxes, meerkats, polar bears, snow leopards and more were each carefully tested in order to see if their brain size, relative to their body size, affects their problem solving processes.
Out of the large group of animals, only 35% of them were capable of removing the delicious prize contained inside the metal box. Bears were the most successful in solving this task, enjoying a tasty meal 70% of the time, while meerkats and mongooses were the least successful, without any individual managing to pass the test.
True, this is also entirely dependent on the animal’s natural environment, given the fact that some bears have grown accustomed to human-created recipients while raiding campsites or picnic areas. On the other hand, meerkats and mongooses have little to no interaction with humans, meaning that a problem similar to the metal box is extremely unlikely to surface in one’s lifetime.
In other words, this test is not entirely conclusive, according to some parties, due to the fact that some of the animals present in the test have already encountered similar problems in the wild while others are left completely oblivious. Even if the research team hopes that by showing how carnivores with larger brains are better problem solvers, this concept will become completely valid, it still has some rather hefty holes in its structure.
The idea of social groups improving a subject’s problem solving speed was also approached in this study. But the hypothesis of social brains did not gain nay support from this study’s findings at all, even though it may seem highly plausible at first glance. Basically, this theory states that animals residing in a large group have the capability of influencing and anticipating actions from other group members, but its connection to problem solving techniques was deemed moot.
Although the idea that bigger brains means better problem solving capabilities might still be seen with a high degree of skepticism from various parties due to the inconclusiveness of the study, proving its viability might show us why some carnivores evolved bigger brains. Only further inquiries on the subject will remove this veil of mystery surrounding said concept.