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Myth or Fact: Are Humans the Smartest Animal?

At Braintastic! Science, we love to talk about our amazing brains. But what about the brains of our animal relatives? Are there any animals that are as clever as us? Let's separate fact from fiction as we explore what it means to be intelligent in the animal kingdom.


Myth or Fact: Cats are smarter than dogs

Myth. In media, cats are often portrayed as clever, cunning animals, while dogs are a bit daft – but in reality, the opposite is true. One study found that dogs have almost twice as many neurons as cats [1]. This is why dogs can learn tricks and train for jobs like search and rescue, sheep herding and supporting people with disabilities.


Myth or Fact: Animals can’t talk

Myth. Though most animals can’t chat to us in English (or any other human language), many can still communicate with us. In the 1970s, Penny Patterson, an American scientist, taught a gorilla called Koko over 1100 signs in American Sign Language [2]. Parrots are also well-known for being able to speak – an African grey parrot called Alex (short for Avian Language Experiment) was able to learn language as well as a five-year-old child [3].


Myth or Fact: Crows hold grudges

Fact. Crows and other corvids are very, very intelligent birds. They can recognise human faces and have very good memories – especially if you’ve wronged them! One study found that not only could crows remember humans who had behaved badly towards them, scolding them with furious caws and wing flaps, this memory would last for years. They even pass this knowledge to other crows... so a grudge can be held for generations [4].


Myth or Fact: Elephants never forget

Fact. Elephants have incredible memories, especially when it comes to remembering old friends. When a new elephant was introduced to an elephant sanctuary in the USA, she greeted another elephant with excitement. After some investigation, the sanctuary owner discovered that they had been in a circus together over 20 years ago – and still remembered each other [5].


Myth or Fact: Pigeons are bird-brained

Myth. Pigeons may have a reputation for not being the smartest of birds, but they’re really very clever. They can count, recognise words and solve memory puzzles that even humans would struggle with. They’re even talented art critics – a Japanese study found that pigeons could tell the difference between Picasso and Monet paintings! [6] They are used by humans for a range of jobs, from carrying messages to detecting cancer cells [7].


Myth or Fact: Octopuses have nine brains

Fact ... sort of. Though octopuses have one central brain, like most animals, three-fifths of their nerves are divided between their eight arms, essentially acting like eight mini-brains [8]. This might explain why they’re so clever – they can solve puzzles, escape from jars, use tools... and steal fish from human fishermen! [9]


Myth or Fact: Humans are the smartest animal

Myth. It’s impossible to say what the smartest animal is, because there are so many different types of intelligence, each suiting every individual species’ needs. Just like every human has a different set of strengths and skills, every animal species is good at something different – which is what makes our world so diverse, interesting and amazing!


Braintastic! Science’s interactive gameshow Amazing Animals delves into the fascinating world of our smartest animal relatives. Think you can communicate as well as a dolphin or outsmart a crow in a puzzle? Invite us to your school or festival and you might find out!










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