Social Intelligence in animals


Since the second part of the twentieth century a growing body of field data about wild social life have led researchers to the idea that social animals should display advanced cognitive abilities within specific domains related to social living and that intelligence is not a monolithic functional entity but includes a number of specialised mental abilities to cope with life in complex and changeable social environment. Thus, to the primary components of intelligence, such as the ability for flexible problem solving and the ability to cope with novel situations, we can add the ability for solving social problems.

According to the social intelligence hypothesis, which was first articulated by Jolly (1966) and Humphrey (1976), complex social interactions (including cooperation, competition, manipulation, and deception) can occur when animals live in large and stable social groups. After spending three months with Dian Fossey and her gorillas in Rwanda (see: Fossey, 1983), Humphrey wrote a review essay in 1976 titled "The Social Function of Intellect" on the evolution of cognitive skills. He argued that primate and human intelligence is an adaptation to social problem-solving, well suited to forward planning in social interaction but less suited to nonsocial domains. These subforms of intelligence assumed the name "Machiavellian intelligence after the 16th century Italian politician and author, Niccolò Machiavelli. It provides individuals or groups with a means of social manipulation in order to attain particular goals. In 1532 Machiavelli published his book The Prince. Giving somewhat cynical recommendations to an aspiring prince, he was prescient in his realisation that an individual's success is often most effectively promoted by seemingly altruistic, honest, and prosocial behaviour. According to Machiavelli's real politic, a popular leader had to give the impression of being sincere, trustworthy, and merciful. To retain his power, however, a prince can set himself above all moral rules and use cunning, lies, and force. Skill in deception and maintaining alliances are two of a prince's most important properties.

Machiavellian intelligence" seemed an appropriate metaphor that inspired primatologists to explicit comparison between the animal social strategies and some of the advice offered five centuries earlier.

De Waal, in his book Chimpanzee Politics (1982), describes how clever high-ranking chimpanzees are at manipulating others. Byrne and Whiten (1988) pose the ability to use other individuals as tools, manipulating the social environment in order to meet preconceived goals as an important factor in the evolution of primate intelligence. In order to compete successfully within groups, apes and monkeys have to recognise who outranks whom, who is closely bonded to whom, and who is likely to be allied to whom.

Skilfulness in navigating social landscape is based on the advanced ability that seems to be unique to primates, that is, the ability to keep track of how other animals relate to each other and thus to recognise the close relationships that exist among individuals (Cheney and Seyfarth, 2003; Kitchen et al., 2005).

Experimental evidence for animals ability for tracking social and kin relations came from the laboratory study performed by Dasser (1988) on captive longtail macaques Macaca fascicularis. The monkeys were shown a pair of slides of members of the group, and their task was to identify another pair of photographs which "matched" the first one. The first pair could be, for example, a mother and a daughter, two sisters, or two unrelated individuals. The macaques quickly learned to identify the right kinship patterns. The experiment indicates that they do not just recognise their own offspring and siblings, but that they also keep track of other individuals' kinship relations. For example, in one test, Dasser trained a female to choose between slides of one mother-offspring pair and slides of two unrelated individuals. Having been trained to respond to one mother-offspring pair, the monkey was then tested with 14 novel slides of different mothers and offspring paired with an equal number of novel pairs of unrelated animals. In all tests, she correctly selected the mother-offspring pairs. Dasser suggests that the monkeys can use the abstract category to classify pairs of individuals that was analogous to our concept of mother-child affiliation.

Experiments of Parr and deWaal (1999) demonstrated chimpanzees as being able to judge about mother-offspring relationships by comparing pairs of photographs of mothers and sons and mothers and daughters. Surprisingly, within mother-offspring category, the chimpanzees could find similarities between mothers and sons much better than between mothers and daughters. The authors suggest that facial similarities are more noticeable to chimpanzees in males in view of their male philopatric society and the tendency towards political alliances in which males incur great risk on behalf of other males (deWaal. 1982). Phenotypic matching might assist the recognition of subsets of related males who tend to support each other.

A number of naturalistic studies have suggested that monkeys recognise the close associates of other group members. For example, play-back experiments using the contact calls of rhesus macaques have demonstrated that females not only distinguish the identities of different signallers but also categorise signallers according to matrilineal kinship (Rendall et al., 1996). In play-back experiments with vervet monkeys Cheney and Seyfarth (1980) found that when females were played the scream of an unrelated juvenile, they were more likely to look towards that juveniles mother than towards other females. Also Cheney and Seyfarth (1990, 2003) argue that vervets can perform vendettas: they prefer to attack relatives of the individuals who have attacked their own relatives.

Knowledge of the relationship between other group members, the so- called third-party relationships, play a particular important role in formation of coalitions, helping individuals to predict who will support or intervene against them when they are fighting with particular opponents, and to assess which potential allies will be effective in coalitions against their opponents (Tomasello and Call, 1997). There are many evidences that monkeys and apes cultivate relationships with powerful supporters. Silk (1999) has demonstrated that male bonnet macaques put their knowledge of their own relationships with other males and their knowledge of relationships among other males to good use when they recruit coalitions. By selectively soliciting males that most frequently supported them and animals that outranked them and their opponents, males focused their recruitment efforts on the candidates that were most likely to intervene on their behalf and those whose support was most likely to be effective in defeating their opponents. They avoid soliciting top-ranking males that were more loyal to their opponents than to themselves. For this they have to have some knowledge of the pattering of support among other individuals, another kind of third-party knowledge.

Although not so well studied as monkeys and apes, several non primate species also show the ability to acquire information about many different individual social relationships. Male dolphins form dyadic and triadic alliances when competing over access to females, and allies with the greatest degrees of partner fidelity are most successful (Connor et al., 1992, 2001; Mann et al., eds., 2000). Analysis of patterns of alliance formation in hyenas suggests that they do monitor other individuals interactions and extrapolate information about other animals relative ranks from their observations. During competitive interactions over meat, hyenas often solicit support from other, uninvolved individuals. When choosing to join ongoing skirmishes, hyenas that are dominant to both of the contestants almost always support the more dominant of the two individuals. When the ally is intermediate in rank between the two opponents, it inevitably supports the dominant individual. These data enable researchers to suggest that hyenas are able to infer transitive rank relations among other group members. However, unlike monkeys, they showed no evidence for recognising third-party relationships (Engh et al., 2005). Observational evidence suggests that colonial white-fronted bee eaters Merops bullockoides may recognise other individuals and kin groups and associate these groups with specific feeding territories (Emlen et al., 1995).

Summarising data about animals that are able to track social events and manipulate with their social partners as tools, we come to the question to what extend non humans understand properties of the living tools. Let us consider this problem in the next Chapter.




A "Theory of Mind" (often abbreviated in TOM) is a specific cognitive ability to understand others as intentional agents, that is, to interpret their minds in terms of theoretical concepts of intentional states such as beliefs and desires. It is called a theory because we can never actually directly know about anothers mind, and there is no objective way to either verify the contents of anothers consciousness or to access their motivations and desires. It is commonplace in philosophy (see Davidson 1984; Dennett 1987) to see this ability as intrinsically dependent upon our linguistic abilities. Language provides us a representational medium for meaning and intentionality: thanks to language we are able to describe other people and our own actions in an intentional way. It may be worth mentioning that Theory of mind is the essential part of the Buddhas Teaching.

In their 1978 paper: "Does the chimpanzee have a theory of mind?" Premack and Woodruff argued that experimental evidence of chimpanzees understanding of human behaviour could be interpreted as detection of intentions. They suggested that their chimpanzee, Sarah, predicted the actions of a man by deducing his intentions and motivations and that she reacted according to her predictions. Thus the researchers raised a question if great apes, like humans, have an ability to make inferences about the intentions, desires, knowledge, and states of minds of other animals. This question became one of dominating problems in cognitive ethology. Theory of mind is recently considered one of subcomponents of social intelligence both in humans and non humans (Whiten, 1993, 1999). The criterion for this is having an understanding that others possess mental states that accommodate ideas and accounts of the world that are different to their own, enabling the animal to make sophisticated predictions about others actions and motivations (Byrne 1995, Gómez 1994, Heyes 1998). The presence of such a capacity in non human species leads to the conclusion that it was possible to investigate TOM as a biological endowment independently of language.

In the discussion of children's cognitive development, the question of when they develop a theory of mind has come into focus (Gopnik and Astington 1988, Gopnik and Meltzoff 1997). Children show a precocious ability to understand intentions and external manifestations of others mind such as gaze direction, attention, and pretense. Nevertheless, it is still discussible at what age children develop a full-fledged theory of mind.

There are several types of behaviour that are said to be representative of an animal that has a theory of mind, and among them self-awareness, knowledge attribution, perspective-taking, and deception. These types of behaviour are closely related to Machiavellian Intelligence, and some researchers consider social intelligence (and especially Machiavellian Intelligence) an integral part of TOM. Let us consider several sorts of evidences attributed to TOM in animals.

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