Animal intelligence as a term can be used in three distinct but overlapping ways.
Cognition in animals
"Animal intelligence" may simply denote the study of cognition in animals. This was what George Romanes had in mind when he entitled a book Animal Intelligence. The modern name for this subject of study is animal cognition.
Raising the question "Are animals intelligent?"
The phrase "animal intelligence" may introduce a discussion about whether it is meaningful to speak of animals as "intelligent" at all, or whether animal behaviour should instead be thought of as a series of unthinking mechanical responses to stimuli that originate in the animal's internal or external environments, with only humans being capable of conscious thought and flexible responding. This debate is now largely obsolete. On the one hand, it has been superseded by a more empirically-driven discussion about whether the research programme of animal cognition, which assumes that animals have cognitive processes similar to those of humans, is or is not successful. On the other hand, it has been made obsolete by any of a number of more modern approaches to human intelligence. The radical behaviourists would see no place for cognition in the explanation even of human behaviour, while the study of artificial intelligence shows that much of what were once thought to be uniquely human mental capacities can be mimicked by an essentially mechanical system. Nonetheless, the question is unlikely to go away completely. The reasons for its persistence are philosophical and ethical as well as (perhaps more than) scientific. The philosophical question is the issue of the animal mind, which is related to the general question of other minds and how to define and quantify consciousness. The ethical significance of this research stems from the widespread belief that causing pain and suffering is morally wrong. If it were concluded that animals were conscious persons like human individuals, would we be able to slaughter them for food? And if so what makes cannibalism immoral?
Relative intelligence of different animal species
People have always viewed some animals as more intelligent than others: in European cultures, dogs, horses, great apes and (more recently) dolphins and parrots are seen as intelligent in ways that other animals are not. Crows have been attributed with humanlike intelligence by almost every culture that has encountered them. A common image is the scala naturae, the ladder of nature on which animals of different species occupy successively higher rungs, with humans at the top. Comparative psychologists have sought in vain for ways of providing an objective underpinning for these essentially subjective and anthropocentric judgements. Part of the difficulty is the lack of agreement about what we mean by intelligence even in humans (it obviously makes a big difference whether language is considered as essential for intelligence, for example). But in any case, different animals (including humans) seem to have different kinds of cognitive processes, which are better understood in terms of the ways in which they are cognitively adapted to their different ecological niches, than by positing any kind of hierarchy. One question that can be asked coherently is how far different species are intelligent in the same ways as humans are, i.e. are their cognitive processes similar to ours. Not surprisingly, our closest biological relatives, the great apes, tend to do best on such an assessment. It is less clear that the species traditionally held to be intelligent do unusually well against this standard, though among the birds, corvids and parrots typically are found to outperform other groups, and among the carnivores, dogs generally show better performance than cats. Despite ambitious claims, evidence of unusually high human-like intelligence among cetaceans is patchy, partly because the cost and difficulty of carrying out research with marine mammals mean that experiments frequently suffer from small sample sizes and inadequate controls and replication.
Studies of animal intelligence
Why do we study animals to learn about their intelligence?
The main purpose of animal intelligence study is to learn about the origins of humans' intelligence by studying the mental processes of species perceived as lower. In order to understand how humans became "smart" we need to understand the processes of association and learning in other animals and how they may have led to our development of art, religion or mathematics. From the study of animal behavior, knowledge can be gained about the events that constitute a learning experience. The knowledge can be applied to other areas of learning and experience in relation to intelligence. Also, we can distinguish animal learning processes from human. For example, the way in which a task is presented to a subject may elicit a different response indicating a different kind of intelligence. Finally, we can study learning processes without the use of man's ability to communicate with an elaborate symbol system or language.
Case studies of intelligent animals
The level of intelligence in animals is commonly represented as a ladder with each species occupying a different rung. Humans are at the top while lower species occupy the successively lower rungs.
Researchers are now discovering that humans aren't the only animals that are self-aware. When anesthetized a red dot was painted somewhere on the face of the animal being tested. Of all the animals painted, humans, chimpanzees, and orangutans were the only animals that were aware that the image being presented through a mirror was them. They also realized that when the red dot was touched on their own face, so was the dot in the image and they responded. Therefore self-awareness can not be used to sufficiently state that humans are different from other animals. A Dr. Kuczaj is performing studies trying to see if any other animals such as dolphins or parrots exhibit self-awareness when placed in front of a mirror too. Daniel J. Povinelli is skeptical and believes that the chimpanzees and orangutans tested for self-awareness weren't necessarily seeing themselves; they were just applying the concept that the image in the mirror was significantly similar to them. This raises the question why did they believe that the image in the mirror was similar to them though? By chance if self-awareness doesn't make us different, then what does? Dr. Kuczaj believes that what differentiates us is our language and he thinks that our ability to communicate is what in effect makes us more intelligent.
Dr. Pepperburg is the owner of an African Grey Parrot named Alex. Alex is a unique parrot because of his ability to perform certain tasks at the level of a human child, such as answering questions regarding the shapes and colors of objects. Alex's abilities demonstrate a need for further study regarding the degrees to which animals possess intelligence.
According to Dr. Sally Boysen, the reason human intelligence differs from animal intelligence is the fact that our method of learning is different from other animals. She says that we are set apart because we purposefully transmit information from generation to generation, allowing each individual's contributions to become accessible to all.
The scientific community remains divided regarding whether animals possess intelligence; many researchers believe animals have no intelligence worth describing.
Do animals think or have a consciousness?
The first question brought up here is how consciousness is defined or measured. There are three types of evidence that animal minds are capable of conscious thought. First, the existence of language is a good indication that the animal being communicated with has a consciousness. For example, Washoe is a chimp who has been taught American Sign Language. On one occasion, on her first sighting of a swan she signed water bird to the researchers. Kanzi is a pygmy chimp who can understand simple commands and questions. Koko the gorilla even went live on the internet and answered questions about her desire for a baby and her dreams of freedom. Self-awareness is another indication. This means the animal realizes that they are separate from the world around them; they have the concept of me and the other beings. Third, the theory of mind idea is the animal having the concept that others have conscious minds too.
As humans, we experience conscious thought and are able to make decisions based on circumstances. Are animals capable of doing this too, or do they rely strictly on instincts and mechanical responses to stimuli?
How do animals learn and how is their learning process similar to our own?
There are two main perspectives concerning animal learning and conditioning. The first focuses on the observed animals behaviors which will hopefully apply to the general population of animals outside the confines of the laboratory. It also has to do with training, which is simply a cause and effect relationship between events. The second perspective focuses on how animals learn through experience and relate events in their environment.
Learning is thinking about and understanding the origins or purposes of an experience. Conditioning is usually described as behavioral phenomena. When an animal responds to its environment in a new way it's due to the fact that its behavioral repertoire has undergone a permanent alteration. An animal can forget a learned behavior; however it will never be able to revert to its previous state of being.
For example, in Pavlov's experiments, the bell was the conditional stimulus (CS) and the food was the unconditional stimulus (UCS). Salivation due to the food was referred to as the unconditional response (UCR) and salivation due to the ringing of the ball was the conditional response (CR). Pavlov discovered that withholding the UCS led to gradual disappearance of the UCR. Pavlov was able to teach the dogs to respond like this because the animals were able to learn using instrumental learning through trial, error, and accidental success.
Another form of learning in animals is associative learning through causal relationships. A causal relationship means knowing an event can cause another event to occur or not occur. Animals learn best through associative learning when two events are accompanied by an unexpected or surprising occurrence. Also, exposure to a strong stimulus will cause more responsiveness, which is called sensitization.
One question raised by this is whether conscious thinking is involved in learning or if learning is strictly a stimulus response behavior in humans and animals. Also, it is not yet known if animals experience emotions as humans do and, if so, whether that has an effect on the learning process. In addition, an animal can grasp certain concepts in order to help facilitate their survival. They don't necessarily understand how the concept works, but they understand that it keeps them alive. This process works by the animal storing the situation, action and how the action was beneficial to their survival. This is so the action can be performed again in the future.