Is this relevant to our, human, every day life? At first glance you might not think so. However according to the researchers there is a window into the development of social intelligence and general intelligence in primates which include you and me as well. (In other words human beings.)
The study has been conducted in order to see if there was any truth to the earlier researcher’s ideas that if a group of humans increased in numbers, then it should be logical that they have to adapt to their new situation. Behaviour, and intelligence level would therefore change. In addition to this some researchers assumed that the intelligence level would increase, but that it wouldn’t be related to any other intelligence than the social one.
Studies who came before this recently published study have proven that there definitely is a link between the size of a social group, primate in this case, and the size of the group members brain. (Wouldn’t it be great if these researchers could do a similar study on humans and see if it matters if we are part of a social online network or if our brain only increases in size if we are part of only offline social networks? What would be the size of a brain of a loner, a geek, social butterfly and people who can’t be alone, ever?) However would we also find out that humans abuse their own species in the way lemurs do if they live in large groups and not if they live alone or in small groups? Wouldn’t that be eye opening?
The lemur test was done with six lemur species, the groups differed in size. (Ranging from 16 per group until as small as 3 per group.) A clever food test was conducted where the lemurs had to choose between option 1) taking food from a human who was facing them and option 2) grabbing food from a human who was looking the other way. The lemurs who were used to living together with lots of other lemurs decided to grab the food from the person who wasn’t looking. (Therefore confirming what the researchers had thought: “lemurs were using social cues that would be practical in the wild when competing with their peers for scarce resources.” The lemurs who lived in smaller groups didn’t have to steal because there would be plenty of food for all of them.
The study concluded with: “Our data suggest that skills in this domain are related to a species’ typical group size, implicating a possible evolutionary relationship between sociality and cognitive skills for out competing others for access to contestable resources.” If this is a break through and if we all need to start living in huge social groups remains to be seen. It might also be a lesson in living in small groups because then you don’t need to be clever because there will, probably, always be enough resources anyway. Therefore we don’t need to follow in the lemurs “abusing their own species” footsteps, and abuse our own. We can live in small groups, and respect each other.
By Georgina Pijttersen