1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Intelligence in Animals

INTELLIGENCE IN ANIMALS.[1] Professor G. J. Romanes, in his work on Animal Intelligence (1881), used the term “intelligence” as synonymous with “reason,” and defined it as follows: “Reason or intelligence is the faculty which is concerned in the intentional adaptation of means to ends. It therefore implies the conscious knowledge of the relation between means employed and ends attained, and may be exercised in adaptation to circumstances novel alike to the experience of the individual and that of the species.” There is here some ambiguity as to the exact psychological significance of the words “intentional adaptation” and of the phrase “conscious knowledge of the relation between the means employed and the ends attained.” A chick a day or two old learns to leave untouched nauseous caterpillars, and Romanes would certainly have regarded this as a case of intelligent profiting by experience; but how far there is intentional adaptation and whether the chick has conscious knowledge of the relation of means to ends, is doubtful, and, to say the least of it, open to discussion. St George Mivart, the acute dialectical opponent of Romanes, denied that animals are capable of the exercise of reason or intelligence. He urged that according to traditional views reason should denote and include all intellectual perception, whether it be direct and intuitive or indirect and inferential (sensu stricto), and contended that under neither head are to be included the sensuous perceptions and merely practical inferences of animals. Wasmann, who argues on similar grounds, regards such behaviour as that of the chicken as instinctive in the wider sense (see Instinct) and not intelligent; man alone, he contends, is intelligent, that is to say has the power of perceiving the relations of concepts to each other, and of drawing conclusions therefrom. It is clear that the discussion largely turns on the definition of terms; but more than this lies behind it. Both Mivart and Wasmann are emphatic in their assertions that instinctive modes of behaviour in the wider sense or the sensuous perceptions and practical inferences of animals differ fundamentally in kind from the rational or intelligent conduct of human folk, and that by no conceivable process of evolution could the one pass upwards into the other.

Wasmann regards the inclusion of those activities which result from sense-experience under the term “intelligence” as pseudo-psychological. To modern psychologists of standing we must therefore turn. Under the heading “Intellect or Intelligence,” in the Dictionary of Psychological definition. Philosophy and Psychology, G. F. Stout and J. Mark Baldwin say: “There is a tendency to apply the term intellect more especially to the capacity for conceptual thinking. This does not hold in the same degree of the connected word intelligence. We speak freely of ‘animal intelligence,’ but the phrase ‘animal intellect’ is unusual. However, the restriction of the term to conceptual process is by no means so fixed and definite as to justify us in including it in the definition.” With respect to the word intellection again: “There is a tendency to restrict the term to conceptual thinking. Ward does so definitely and consistently. Croom-Robertson, on the other hand, gives the word the widest possible application, making it cover all forms of cognitive process. On the whole, if the term is to be employed at all, Robertson’s usage appears preferable, as corresponding better to the generality of the words intellect and intelligence.” It does not seem to be pseudo-psychological, therefore, to apply the term intelligence to the capacity, unquestionably possessed by animals, of profiting by sensory experience. The present writer has suggested that the term may be conveniently restricted to the capacity of guiding behaviour through perceptual process, reserving the terms intellect and reason for the so-called faculties which involve conceptual process. There are, however, advantages, as Stout and Baldwin contend, in employing the word in a somewhat wide and general sense. It is probably best for strictly psychological purposes to define somewhat strictly perceptual and conceptual (or ideational) process and to leave to intelligence the comparative freedom of a word to be used in general literature and therein defined by its context. It may be helpful, however, to place in tabular form the different uses above indicated:—

Perceptual Process.   Conceptual Process.
1. Instinct (wider sense). Intelligence (e.g. Wasmann).
2. Sense-perception Intelligence (e.g. Mivart).
3.   Intelligence  (e.g. Stout and Baldwin).
4. Intelligence.   Intellect and Reason
     (e.g. Lloyd Morgan).

From this table it may be seen at a glance that, with such divergence of usage, the application of the word “intelligent” to any given case of animal behaviour has in itself little psychological significance. If the psychological status of the animal is to be seriously discussed, the question to be answered is this: Are the observed activities explainable in terms of perceptual process only, or do they demand also a supplementary exercise of conceptual process? Granting that they are intelligent in the broad acceptation of the word, are they only perceptually intelligent or also conceptually intelligent?

It would require more space than is at our command to make the distinction which is drawn by those who use these terms clear and distinct; but enough may perhaps be said to enable the general reader to grasp the salient points. It will be convenient to take a concrete case. A chick Perceptual process. in the performance of its truly instinctive activities pecks at all sorts of small objects. In doing so it gains a certain amount of initial experience. Very soon it may be observed that some grubs and caterpillars are seized with avidity whenever occasion offers; while others are after a few trials let alone. Broadly speaking, we have here intelligent selection and rejection. Psychologically interpreted what is believed to take place is somewhat as follows. Each grub or caterpillar affords a visual impression or sensation. This as such is just a presentation to sight and nothing more. But in virtue of previous experience it suggests what was formerly presented to consciousness in that experience. It has meaning. An impression which carries meaning begotten of previous experience is raised to the level of a percept; and behaviour which is influenced and guided by such percepts, that is to say by impressions and the meaning for behaviour they suggest, is the outcome of perceptual process. If a dog learns to open a gate by lifting the latch, this may be due to perceptual process. Through previous experience the sight of the latch may suggest meaning for practical behaviour. His action may be simply due to the fact that the visual presentation has been directly associated with the appropriate bodily activities, and now by suggestion reinstates like activities; he Conceptual process. may not, though on the other hand he may, exercise conceptual thought. Let us suppose that the chick which selects certain caterpillars and rejects others does form concepts. What does this imply from the standpoint of psychology? Stout and Baldwin define conception as the “cognition of a universal as distinguished from the particulars which it unifies. The universal apprehended in this way is called a concept.” If then the chick apprehends the universal “good-for-eating” as exemplified in the particular maggot, and the maggot as a concrete case of the abstract and universal “good-for-eating,” it has a capacity for conceptual thought. “There is one point in our definition,” say Stout and Baldwin, “which requires to be specially emphasized. Conception is the cognition of a universal as distinguished from the particulars which it unifies. The words “as distinguished from” are of essential importance. The mere presence of a universal element in cognition does not constitute a concept. Otherwise all cognition would be conceptual. The simplest perception includes a universal.... The universal must be apprehended in antithesis to the particulars which it unifies.” The general, or in technical phraseology, the universal characteristic “good-for-eating” is present in all that the chick practically finds to be edible; but the chick may just eat the nice caterpillars without thinking for a moment of edibility.

Few would dream of contending that the chick a few days old is capable of conceptual thought. Naïve perceptual process pretty obviously suffices for an explanation of the behaviour of the little bird. But so too, it may be said, does it suffice for the explanation of much of the Their value. practical behaviour of men. If a great number of the actions of animals are only perceptually intelligent, so too are a great number of the actions of men and women. This is unquestionably the case; and it serves to bring out the distinction in value which may be assigned to the percept and the concept respectively. The value of the percept is for simple direct practical behaviour; the value of the concept is for the elaboration of systematic knowledge. Any given impression may have meaning for behaviour in a given situation which is like that which has previously developed in a certain manner; but it may also have significance for the interpretation of such situations in a conceptual scheme of thought. The sight of the sage-blossom may have meaning for the bee which has sucked the sweets contained in such flowers; the sight of the bee in this situation may have significance for scientific interpretation as an example of the fertilization of flowers by insects. The bee may be only perceptually intelligent; the man who observes its action may or may not be conceptually intelligent.

A good deal of human behaviour may be interpreted in terms of perceptual intelligence, and a far larger proportion of animal behaviour may be so interpreted. But some human conduct cannot be explained save as the outcome of conceptual intelligence. The question is, whether any carefully observed and well-authenticated cases of animal procedure are inexplicable in the absence of conceptual thought, and if so what concepts are necessarily involved? It is now conceded that the mere collection of anecdotes which result from casual as opposed to systematic observation can afford no satisfactory basis for an answer to this question. A solution can only be obtained by well-planned observations conducted by those who have an adequate psychological training. Even under these conditions a criterion of the presence or absence of conceptual factors is needed; and such a criterion is not easy to formulate or to apply.

If we institute inquiries with a view to ascertaining how the conceptual factor originates, it appears to be the result of analysis and abstraction, and to be reached by a process of comparison which becomes intentional and deliberate. If, for example, in educational Development of concept. procedure, we seek to assist children in forming concepts of colour, shape and material, we place before them a number of objects, some round, some square, some triangular; some red, some yellow, some blue; some made of paper, some of wood, some of flannel. Any given object is both red and square and made of flannel, blue and round and made of wood, and so on. We teach the child to group the objects, to put all the blues, yellows and reds together irrespective of shape or material; then all the rounds, squares and triangles together; then all which are made of like material. We thus help the children to grasp that though shape, colour and material are combined in each object, yet for the immediate purpose in hand one matters and the others do not matter. That which does matter is abstracted from the rest. The child has to analyse his experience and fix his attention on some given factor therein. He has to compare the objects intentionally, that is, for a definite end. He reaches, for example, the concept “blue” and realizes that the word may be applied to a number of particular objects differing in other respects, and that each is an example of what he understands by the word blue. Whether he could reach the concept without words is a question on which opinions differ.

Locke held that animals are incapable of the abstraction which is implied in such procedure. Dr Stout considers that observation of their behaviour shows little if any evidence of intentional comparison. And it is open to discussion whether they are able to analyse the Are animals conceptually intelligent? situations opened up by their perceptual behaviour. The matter cannot be fully considered here. It must suffice if enough has been said to show the nature of the distinction between perceptual and conceptual process.

An example may, however, be given of the kind of observation which, since it was carefully planned and carried out, is of evidential value. Dr Alexander Hill’s fox terrier was “taught” to open the side door of a large box by lifting a projecting latch. When the door swung open he was never allowed to find anything in the box, but was given a piece of biscuit from the hand. Then a warm chop-bone was put inside the box, which was placed in a courtyard so that the dog would pass it when no one was near, though he could be watched from the window. Details of the terrier’s behaviour are given by Dr Hill in Nature (lxvii. 558, April 1903). The net result was that the dog failed to apply at once his quite familiar experience of lifting the latch in the usual way. Here two situations were presented; first the box with people around and a piece of biscuit to be obtained from one of them by lifting the latch; secondly the box with no one near and a redolent chop-bone inside. To us it is obvious enough that the lifted latch is the key to the development of both situations; we analyse them so as to get the essential factor which matters. The dog apparently did not do so. He seemingly was incapable of this modest amount of analysis and abstraction.

We can now see more clearly what was meant by saying that Romanes’ phrase (that intelligence “implies a conscious knowledge of the relation between means employed and ends attained”) is ambiguous. The dog which lifts the latch of a gate and goes out when the gate swings Ambiguity
of phrase “conscious knowledge of means.”
open undoubtedly employs means to reach an end; he need not analytically think the means as conducive to the end and the end as reached by the means; he need not conceive this relationship as exemplified in a number of particular cases; he need not cognize the universal as distinguished from the particulars. Perceptual experience, therefore, does not imply what Romanes states if his words are interpreted in terms of conception; it does, however, imply that the relationship is contained within the unanalysed whole of experience and is a factor contributing to an acquired mode of behaviour.

Opinions differ as to how far, if at all, animals show what we are bound to interpret as the rudiments of conceptual thinking. It is perhaps best to regard the question as still sub judice. The evolutionist school, but not without exception, incline to the view that we find in animals the beginnings of conceptual experience; some are, however, of opinion that, in the absence of language, conceptual analysis is well-nigh impossible, and in any case cannot be carried far. To an evolutionist the assertion that conceptual intelligence could not conceivably have had a natural genesis from perceptual experience, appears to be made on grounds other than scientific. Few if any psychologists contend, on strictly psychological grounds, for a distinction of kind such as Mivart and Wasmann postulate. Conscious experience is indeed sui generis and is distinct in kind from the energy with which the physicist or the physiologist has to deal; but within conscious experience from its earliest manifestation to its latest development scientific psychology only recognizes differences of mode.

In individual development the earliest manifestation of experience is the conscious accompaniment or concomitant of that type of organic behaviour which includes all reflex and instinctive acts. This affords the primordial tissue of experience, including a conscious awareness Stages of development. of the stimulating presentations which initiate organic behaviour and the kinaesthetic presentations which accompany it. Thus arises an awareness of the development of the instinctive situation. Perceptual intelligence depends upon associative re-presentation—the earlier phases of a presented situation calling up a revival of the whole previous experience before its later phases are again actually presented. Through the process of inhibition, to the clearer understanding of which physiology is daily contributing fresh data, the actual development through behaviour of the later phases of the situation is checked, and an acquired modification of the behaviour results. The whole range of perceptual intelligence in animals illustrates the manner in which accommodation to varied circumstances is reached. On these foundations in varied experience conceptual intelligence is developed. The early stages of its development, whether in the child, in whom it unquestionably occurs, or in the higher animals, in which it is not improbably incipient, are difficult to determine on the basis of observation of its expression in behaviour or conduct. But the distinguishing features of conceptual as contrasted with perceptual intelligence are the comparison of situations with a view to their analysis, the disentangling of factors which are of importance for some purpose of interpretation or of conduct, and the attitude of mind which is expressed by saying that the particular case is an example of what experience has shown to be, in technical phrase, universal, and is realized as such. Under the comprehensive phrase, intelligence in animals, this may or may not be included.

For literature, see under Instinct.  (C. Ll. M.) 

  1. For a discussion of human intelligence, see Psychology.