Skeptics at the Science Festival: Animal Intelligence

Intelligence is something we take for granted that we can recognize in other people, and readily apply to animals. In several ways, this talk questions the underlying logic of doing so, and looks at how we can better understand the evolution of the human mind by comparing human abilities with those of other species. Dr Richard Byrne uses two examples from his own work: the social intelligence of deception, and the technical intelligence of manual skill learning.

Note that the talk is guaranteed to be finished by 8:30 but that the Q&A may last longer.

Dick Byrne is Research Professor in the School of Psychology at St Andrews University, Scotland, where his work focuses on the evolution of cognitive and social behaviour, particularly the origins of distinctively human characteristics. After a degree in Natural Sciences at the University of Cambridge, his PhD research was on human planning and thought. 

Since going to St Andrews, he has carried out field research on baboons, chimpanzees and gorillas in Africa, on topics including vocal and gestural communication, deception, and the acquisition of complex manual feeding techniques. These primate studies led to his writing The Thinking Ape (OUP, 1995), which was awarded the British Psychology Society’s Book Award 1997, and co-editing Machiavellian Intelligence: Social expertise and the evolution of intellect in monkeys, apes and humans (OUP, 1988) and Machiavellian Intelligence II: Extensions and evaluations (CUP, 1997). 

In addition to primates he has worked on several other social species: projects include social cognition of the domestic pig, in collaboration with veterinary researchers at Bristol University; complex social strategies in elephants, in collaboration with the Amboseli Trust for Elephants; and cognition in social lizards, in collaboration with researchers at Macquarie University, Australia. 

Postgraduates under his supervision have recently worked on monkey vocal communication, gaze understanding by lemurs and elephants, cognitive control of navigation by monkeys and apes, and gestural communication in chimpanzees, bonobos and orangutans. 

Professor Byrne has published 135 refereed journal articles and 67 invited book chapters. He is a founder-member of the Scottish Primate Research Group, and is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh.