There are now officially two kinds of people in this world. People who think cats are smarter than dogs, and people who know the truth.
According to a study conducted at Vanderbilt University, published in the journal Frontiers in Neuroanatomy, the canine brain may be more than twice as capable of deep thought, planning and complex behaviors as cats, owing to double the amount of specialized neurons in the cerebral cortex as their feline friends.
This was the first study to examine the long-debated issue from a cortical neuron count.
“In this study, we were interested in comparing different species of carnivorans to see how the numbers of neurons in their brains relate to the size of their brains, including a few favorite species [like] cats and dogs, lions and brown bears,” said associate professor of psychology and biological sciences Suzana Herculano-Houzel.
Herculano-Houzel developed the test, which found 530 million cortical neurons in the average dog brain and only about 250 million in a feline one. For reference, humans have about 16 billion cortical neurons at their disposal, lending them a higher perceived capability for analytical thought.
“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,” Herculano-Houzel said.
The test examined just the cerebral cortex of the brains, the wrinkled outer layer, which is associated with decision-making and problem-solving functions, National Geographic reports.
Herculano-Houzel and her team of researchers from the U.S., Brazil, Denmark, and South Africa looked at brains from a golden retriever, a cat, and a smaller mixed breed dog. Previous examinations of animal intelligence have taken brain size and complexity into account, criteria which have also been linked to intelligence levels.
“We definitely need more research on this topic before we can definitively state how meaningful brain size is as a measure of intelligence across different animal groups,” Sarah Benson-Amram, a scientist at the University of Wyoming’s Animal Behavior and Cognition lab, told Nat Geo.
According to AZ Central, dogs have proven themselves useful as service animals, medical assistants, members of the military, and even actors, bolstering their bragging rights for higher cognitive command.
While there’s no way of testing who’s more lovable, although Herculano-Houzel lands squarely in the canine camp, we can at least end the argument of which species is more intelligent.
At least until the next test comes along.
“I’m 100 percent a dog person,” Herculano-Houzel said, “but, with that disclaimer, our findings mean to me that dogs have the biological capability of doing much more complex and flexible things with their lives than cats can. At the least, we now have some biology that people can factor into their discussions about who’s smarter, cats or dogs.”
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Matthew Russell is a West Michigan native and with a background in journalism, data analysis, cartography and design thinking. He likes to learn new things and solve old problems whenever possible, and enjoys bicycling, going to the dog park, spending time with his daughter, and coffee.
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