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Nature & Environment

Elephants are more intelligent than we thought

By T.K. Randall
April 12, 2017 · Comment icon 9 comments

Elephants possess significant self understanding. Image Credit: CC BY-SA 3.0 Geir Kiste
New research has shown that elephants possess a level of self-understanding that is rare in animals.
The study involved having elephants undertake a 'deceptively simple' intelligence test designed to highlight whether or not they were capable of 'body awareness'.

For the test, each animal was led on to a mat with a stick tied to it. To pass the test, the elephant needed to pick up the stick and hand it to a researcher who was standing a short distance away.

Impressively, the animals realized that in order to pick up the stick they needed to move off of the mat to which it was tied.
"This is a deceptively simple test, but its implications are quite profound," said Dr Josh Plotnik.

"The elephants understood that their bodies were getting in the way, so they stepped aside to enable themselves to complete the task."

"This implies that elephants may be capable of recognizing themselves as separate from objects or their environment. This means that they may have a level of self-understanding, coupled with their passing of the mirror test, which is quite rare in the animal kingdom."

Source: Independent | Comments (9)

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Recent comments on this story
Comment icon #1 Posted by khol 7 years ago
Remarkable animals that show high levels of intelligence and self awareness. Its true some elephants are trained to paint an image repeatedly for monetary gain and Im not to cool with that. The animal becomes agitated, bored.. but it shows levels of awareness other animals do not possess. Amazing creatures
Comment icon #2 Posted by highdesert50 7 years ago
The behavioral experimentation done with cats in mazes initially concluded a lack of intelligence because the cats did not immediately seek out the food. Instead, given their curious nature, the cats simply enjoyed the process of exploration more than solving the puzzle. It is unfortunate that we tend to measure intelligence largely on a human scale. Any animal that has managed to survive the predatory nature of humans is a tribute to its adaptability and intelligence.
Comment icon #3 Posted by Nnicolette 7 years ago
But are you cool with people being forced to do that? This test is kind of simplistic and these results being the entirety of the investigation leaves me feeling as though they are still greatly understating the intelligence of the elephants.
Comment icon #4 Posted by paperdyer 7 years ago
In my estimation, the test shows a rudimentary analysis ability.  Animals are smarter than we give credit to them.  Just because your dog puts his paw on something shows me the dog is smart enough to know the edible in question needs to be kept in place. I know lots of people that have trouble finding objects by just pointing to them.  It depends on the angle of the view the person has of your point.  Perspective is everything.
Comment icon #5 Posted by Future ghost 7 years ago
People have free will and can just stop doing something whenever they choose to, unfortunately animals do not, and are forced to do things even though they don't want to.
Comment icon #6 Posted by Future ghost 7 years ago
All animals are more intelligent than people give them credit for. Trying to compare an animals intelligence to that of a human is a waste of time. Every species is intelligent in its own way, so comparing an elephant to say,a cat or dog, is pointless since they are different species. Even comparing animals of the same species is pointless, because just like people, there are the geniuses and the not so bright in the bunch. They are all individuals, not cookie cutter copies of each other. Any species that has survived to this day has to have a certain degree of intelligence. No tests needed.
Comment icon #7 Posted by taniwha 7 years ago
Of course an elephant has body awareness. Was there ever one person alive who seriously thought otherwise?  setting out to prove the obvious is a fail on every level.
Comment icon #8 Posted by Codenwarra 7 years ago
Many years ago a directive went out in the New South Wales railways not to load elephants in circus trains directly behind the tender of a steam locomotive. An elephant had reached out to the tender, turned on a valve and the engine ran out of water, stranding the train. It would not surprise me if the elephant just wanted a nice cool drink and had seen a water valve before. I've seen a dog trying to turn a water tap on. She might have succeeded too, but I did it for her.
Comment icon #9 Posted by AustinHinton 7 years ago
Body-awareness, or more precisely self-awareness, is a very rare trait among species. So far it's only been reported in Grey Parrots, Apes (but not monkeys), Elephants and humans. The "mirror test" is often use to determine if a species is self-aware, if the individual recognizes that it is itself it's looking at, then it may be self-aware. Interestingly, humans do not perform well at the mirror test until about three years of age. 

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