One chimpanzee may be smarter than the other, just like humans. But a lot of that intelligence depends on the genes that they inherit from their ancestors. A new study conducted by the Yerkes National Primate Center found that there is no effect of rearing history or gender on their cognitive skills. That is, a chimpanzee raised by a human caretaker may not necessarily be more intelligent than chimpanzees raised by their mothers.

Chimpanzees

Scientists tested the intelligence of 99 chimpanzees

Scientists have long debated the role of genetics in intelligence. Past studies have shown that genetics does play a crucial role in a human’s performance in IQ tests, though environmental factors also have some influence. However, researchers have paid little attention to the role of genes in animal intelligence. A team of researchers led by Professor William Hopkins tested the intelligence of 99 chimpanzees using 13 different cognitive tasks.

These 13 tasks measure cognitive performance in non-social as well as social contexts. It included tool use, spatial cognition, problem solving ability, social communication, among other skills. Scientists then analyzed the genetics of each of the 99 chimpanzee between age 9 to 54. They compared the animals’ ability to perform the tasks with their genetics. Scientists discovered that genes do play a role in cognitive abilities of a chimpanzee.

Genes responsible for 50% of a chimpanzee’s intelligence

 

To be precise, about 50% of the variation in the chimps’ intelligence could be attributed to genes. Though genetics is not the only factor, it cannot be ignored. Andrew Lonie, a biologist at the University of Melbourne, said that the intelligence is absolutely inherited. Studies on chimpanzee intelligence could help researchers better understand the intelligence. That’s because the chimpanzees’ performance isn’t complicated by socio-cultural complexities or school systems.

This discovery indicates that differences in cognition would have taken place about 5 million years ago in the common ancestor of chimpanzees and humans. In the future, it could also help scientists identify the intelligence-related genes.