What can we in the media world learn from apes, elephants and several other animals? Besides the occasional eye-opening Discovery Channel documentary and some great cartoons, there’s more to uncover here than you might think.
Emory University’s Dr. Frans de Waal published an interesting study in The Wall Street Journal over the weekend detailing the flaws in how we as humans approach the study of animal intelligence. Using several examples, de Waal illustrates that our previous perception of animals being purely primitive and instinctive in their IQ level is actually a competence flaw among us as humans. Here are two quick examples of what these tests on animals reveal about humans:
The Elephant Test: Originally scientists tried to entice an elephant to use its trunk to reach for a stick that would help bring an out-of-reach piece of food closer, not realizing that picking up the stick with its trunk would block its nasal passages, thereby making it unaware of the food. They mistakenly concluded the elephant was not intelligent enough to perform the exercise.
The Chimp Test: Scientists put chimps through facial recognition exercises using only human faces and, when the chimp delivered an average performance, they mistakenly concluded that chimps were not smart enough to perform facial recognition. After discovering their blunder, they replaced the human faces with those of other chimps, and the test results skyrocketed.
De Waal’s study reveals that as humans, we often assume that animals think and communicate the same way that we do. I believe that this problem also applies to how we communicate with other humans. We often assume that other people “speak our language” when in reality, we all have very different ways of communicating.