Humans demonstrate unrivaled cognitive abilities. Compared to every other animal, we are the most intelligent. But why? Natalia Borrego’s research investigates this “why” by testing the cognitive abilities of non-human animals.
One explanation for the evolution of humans’ exceptional intelligence is that we are smart because we have to deal with other humans; being social requires intelligence. Successfully living in a complex society requires the ability to work together, keep track of relationships, manipulate others, and cooperate to solve problems. We can scientifically test this explanation for human intelligence by experimentally comparing the cognitive abilities of social and nonsocial animals.
If sociality and intelligence are evolutionarily linked, then social animals should be more intelligent than nonsocial animals.
Natalia is testing whether sociality and intelligence are linked by testing learning, memory, and problem solving in Big Cats (lions, tigers, and leopards). Lions are the only social cats, and if sociality and intelligence are linked, then lions will outperform tigers and leopards on cognitive tests.
Currently, Natalia is working at Lion Country Safari, Zoo Miami, and in South Africa to test the cognitive abilities of Big Cats. Her work will be the first to test cognition in these species and is a critical step towards answering the question: Why are humans so smart?