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Scientific proof that dogs are smarter than cats
04 December 2017, 10:08 | Melissa Porter
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The research was done in the lab of Suzana Herculano-Houzel, an associate professor of psychology and biological sciences at Vanderbilt University.
One of the key questions the study hoped to answer was whether carnivores have more brain neurons than the herbivorous species they prey upon, with the researchers hypothesising that they should because hunting is cognitively more demanding.
"In 2005, my lab developed a very simple, fast and low-priced method to count cells in brains and brain parts", Herculano-Houzel said. "They have a fairly small brain but they have as many neurons as you would expect to find in a primate ... and that's a lot of neurons".
What the researchers did is take brain matter and essentially turn it into soup.
"Neurons are the basic information processing units", said Herculano-Houzel.
For the first time, scientists at Vanderbilt University counted the number of cortical neurons in the brains of both cats and dogs, and found that dogs have almost twice the amount of neurons compared to cats, ABC News reports. While different parts of the brain process outside stimuli like sight and touch, the cerebral cortex puts these stimuli together to drive decision-making and problem-solving, among other functions. For example, the Golden Retriever had more cortical neurons than a brown bear whose brain is three times larger than that of a dog, the number of neurons in the bear approximately equal to the number counted in cats.
"As far as dogs and cats go, the study found that dogs have about 530 million cortical neurons while cats have about 250 million". Humans, by comparison, have around 16 billion. Two brains were used to study dogs because the canines vary so greatly in size.
Researchers also looked at the brains of a ferret, mongoose, hyena, lion, brown bear and raccoon - which they called an "outlier", packing the same amount of neurons as a dog into the brain a size of a cats.
While the researchers may have added scientific clout to a household debate about cats and dogs, their work is part of a larger effort to use neurons as one quantifiable measure of intelligence.
Of course, such an arbitrary measurement of the brain is not an objective metric of such a complex trait as intelligence.
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