It’s the Year of the Rooster in More Ways than One!

In case you haven’t been reading your Chinese placemats lately, 2017 is the Year of the Rooster. And we are kicking the year off with a new peer-reviewed paper in the prestigious journal Animal Cognition, entitled “Thinking Chickens: A Review of Cognition, Emotion and Behavior in the Domestic Chicken,” authored by Dr. Lori Marino.

Dr. Marino, Executive Director of the Kimmela Center and Lead Scientist for The Someone Project, reviewed dozens of peer-reviewed studies of cognition, emotion, personality and social behavior of domestic chickens. And while chickens are generally considered low birds on the totem pole when it comes to our appreciation of their intelligence, the scientific evidence leads to the very different conclusion that they are more intelligent, complex and sensitive than most people give them credit for.

Marino concludes that “Chickens are just as cognitively, emotionally and socially complex as most other birds and mammals in many areas.” For example, chickens:

  • Demonstrate self-control and self-assessment, capacities that indicate self-awareness;
  • Communicate in complex ways, including through referential communication, which may depend upon their ability to take the perspective of another animal;
  • Can reason and make logical inferences. For example, chickens are capable of simple forms of logic that humans don’t develop until about age seven;
  • Appear able to anticipate future events;
  • Are behaviorally sophisticated, discriminating amongst individuals, engaging in clever social strategies and learning from other chickens;
  • Have complex negative and positive emotions, and exhibit emotional contagion and simple empathy;
  • Have distinct personalities.

Dr. Marino concludes that “chickens share a number of cognitive capacities with other highly intelligent species such as dogs, chimpanzees, elephants, dolphins, and even humans. There is good scientific evidence to suggest a need for further non-invasive comparative behavioral research with chickens in natural settings, as well as a complete re-framing of current views about their intelligence and our overall relationship to them.”

This is the third paper produced with grant money from Farm Sanctuary’s The Someone Project, an endeavor aimed at using scientific evidence to raise the public’s understanding of farm animal cognition and behavior. The first two papers focused on the cognitive and behavioral complexities of fish and pigs, respectively, and generated international attention.

A white paper based on this publication is also available.

Brainiacs of the Sea and the Land

Students experienced an exciting opportunity to learn about cetacean intelligence from Dr. Lori Marino at the Institute for Human and Machine Cognition (IHMC)’s March 2015 Science Saturday, about “Dolphins, Brainiacs of the Sea“.

Dr. Marino shared her knowledge and her passion for animals while showing that science is fun. Over 80 third through fifth graders had the amazing experience of doing hands-on science and learning about dolphins in the context of their high intelligence. Fun and excitement are among the sparks that light a desire for science learning – and both were plentiful during this Science Saturday.

Fun and excitement light a desire for science learning.

The morning sessions included a hands-on activity designed to teach them how to determine the brain size of different animals by filling their skulls with corn kernels and measuring these out in graduated cylinders. The students measured the cranial volume of several different local species including black bear, raccoon, dog, cougar and alligators from specimens provided by the The Silver River Museum and Environmental Education Center. They compared their measurements to the large brain volume of a bottlenose dolphin specimen from the Florida Museum of Natural History, calculated an Encephalization Quotient (a measure of brain to body size) for each species and then pooled their data to make a graph comparing dolphin EQ with that of the other species and even humans. They also learned logical thinking and mathematics as they went through the steps of comparing brain and body ratios and estimating and comparing EQ for each species.

From the extensive questions and intense looks on their faces as they made their measurements, it was clear the students were getting a lot out of their journey into the world of science that morning.

Brainiacs of the Sea

March 5, 2015: Kimmela Center Executive Director Lori Marino gave a talk entitled “Dolphin Brains: An Alternative to Complex Intelligence in Primates” at the Institute for Human and Machine Cognition (IHMC) in Ocala, Florida.

The award winning IHMC Evening Lecture Series provides a community forum where individuals gather to hear presentations in topics from science and technology to urban planning to aviation.

The talk explored dolphin and whale evolution, brain size and cognitive complexity with an audience of over 300. Earlier in the day, Dr. Marino met with engineers, scientists and high school interns at the Institute to talk about artificial and nonhuman intelligence and explore the many fascinating possibilities for understanding how intelligence and consciousness evolves.

Family, friends, and freedom are as important to dolphins as they are to us humans.After the talk the IHMC staff, board members and supporters held a dinner in her honor, after which the audience and dinner companions engaged in a round-robin game of “Ask the Scientist” where everyone got to ask a question they’ve always wanted answered about dolphins and whales.

Dr. Marino explained that family, friends, and freedom are as important to dolphins as they are to us humans. And people were surprised to learn, for example, that:

  • The closest living relative to dolphins and whales is the hippopotamus. (One audience member guessed correctly!)
  • Dolphins and whales have the second highest level of encephalization (a measure of relative brain size) next to modern humans and have had their big brains for 15 million years – demonstrating that our species is just an upstart when it comes to braininess.
  • Dolphin and whale brains, on one hand, and primate brains, on the other, represent two very different ways large complex brains have evolved – “two different ways brains can produce complex intelligence and self-awareness.”
  • In addition to being able to recognize themselves in mirrors, dolphins can also play a form of the game Jeopardy in which they report (by pressing paddles) how certain they are about the answer to questions on a continuum of easy to very difficult. This ability, and self-recognition, mean that dolphins are self-aware.

Although humans like to pride themselves on their cultural sophistication, dolphins and whales share a lot of these characteristics like culture, social clubs, cooperation, and even tool use.