The evolution of intelligence: Do we know how to study it?

It is 2017. A 26-year-old me was exploring New York City for the very first time. As a biological anthropologist, I had a strong desire to visit the Bronx Zoo. On that hot summer afternoon at the beginning of September, I headed directly to the Congo Gorilla Forest exhibit. Despite my interest in the evolution of intelligence and complex behavior, that long-lasting curiosity that I was able to transform into a career, I have never seen these majestic animals live before. What I perceived that day changed my life forever. A large silverback gorilla looked directly at my eyes, establishing a connection that I felt thousands of times with other humans. After some seconds of deep contemplation, that gorilla started predicting my movements, anticipating and mimicking my reactions, and communicating outstandingly. I will never be able to directly ask that gorilla its emotions and thoughts, but I will do my best to understand the only thing that can scientifically explain the wide diversity of cognitive answers that exist in nature: our brains.

Image by Christopher Krupenye

An anthropologist studying the evolution of intelligence and learning in animals. Passionately connecting Neuroscience with Evolutionary Biology. New York, NY.