The Jakarta Post
A study has found that dogs have twice the number of neurons in their cerebral cortices than cats. (Shutterstock/File)
Science has the answer to one of the most contentious debates of all-time: Between cats and dogs, which are smarter?
In a new study, a team of researchers from six different universities in Brazil, Denmark, South Africa and the United States examined for the first time ever not only the brain sizes but also the number of neurons in the cerebral cortices of cats and dogs.
Neurons are specialized cells that transmit messages within the body in the form of electrical impulses. So why study neurons specifically in the cerebral cortex? Notable neurologist and one of the researchers, Dr. Suzana Herculano-Houzel, told National Geographic: “I believe the absolute number of neurons an animal has, especially in the cerebral cortex, determines the richness of their internal mental state and their ability to predict what is about to happen in their environment based on past experience.”
While the many different parts of the brain are involved in processing external stimuli such as sight, smell and touch, the cerebral cortex makes sense of all these stimuli to drive decision-making and problem-solving, among other functions.
The study found that dogs have twice the number of neurons in their cerebral cortices than cats, suggesting that they are twice as intelligent. Dogs have about 530 million cortical neurons while cats have about 250 million. To put it in perspective, humans have around 16 billion.
A follow-up study analyzed the brain sizes of carnivores, including ferrets, mongoose, raccoons, cats, dogs, hyenas, lions and brown bears. The order Carnivora, which refers to mammals that have appropriate teeth and/or claws to shred meat, was chosen because it includes both wild and domesticated species with a wide range of brain sizes.
It was revealed that many animals with large brain sizes have few neurons. For instance, the brain of a golden retriever has more neurons than a hyena, lion or brown bear, despite those animals having brains up to three times as large. Surprisingly, the study demonstrates that a brown bear has a similar number of neurons to a cat, even though it has a brain that is 10 times as large, suggesting that cats and brown bears are almost equally intelligent.
Renowned cat behaviorist Celia Haddon suggested that cats may have fewer neurons than dogs because they are not as social. “One reason why dogs may have more neurons in their brains than cats may be because they are social animals,” she said.
“They descended from wolves that hunt in a pack and therefore need complex behaviors to cooperate with each other – behaviors like appeasement and reconciliation. This helps them cooperate with humans too, so we have guide dogs, medical detection dogs and so forth. […] Cats don’t have these behaviors because they hunt alone and can, and often do, live alone. Mind you, you could say that they are cleverer than dogs because they just eat cat food and don’t have to do anything in return. What’s so stupid about that?”
According to Kennel Club secretary Caroline Kisko, “These findings could well explain the fantastic versatility of dogs. Dogs thrive in many roles in society – from police and assistance dogs, to companion and search and rescue dogs – and they seem to have a biological ability to do much more than cats.”
The methodology and results of the study were published in the journal Frontiers in Neuroanatomy. (afr/kes)
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