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Elephants Can Pass Simple Intelligence Test That Human Children Can't

Apr 14, 2017 11:42 AM EDT
Elephants are truly one of the most intelligent species in the animal kingdom, as proven by a simple test recently conducted by the University of Cambridge.
(Photo : Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

Elephants are highly intelligent creatures, but the animals might be even more self-aware than we thought.

A new study showed that Asian elephants were able to pass a simple body-awareness test that suggests they know how to use their bodies as tools to achieve a goal.

According to a report from Science Daily, researchers from the University of Cambridge -- led by Dr. Josh Plotnik -- conducted a test that was adapted from an experiment in which children were tasked to push a trolley that's attached on a mat that the children stood on. Humans tend to make a connection between their body and the environment after passing 18 months of age.

The scientists modified the test to see how elephants will respond. They attached a stick to a rubber mat with a rope, requiring the elephant to walk on top of the mat and pass the stick to a person in front of them.

Since the stick is attached on the mat, the elephants can't pick up the stick and hand it over without stepping off the mat -- if they can figure this out. With this experiment, the team can observe if the elephants recognize their bodies as obstacles to their task.

In the test, the elephants stepped off the mat to complete their task by an average of around 42 out of 48 times.

"This is a deceptively simple test, but its implications are quite profound," Plotnik explained. "The elephants understood that their bodies were getting in the way, so they stepped aside to enable themselves to complete the task. In a similar test, this is something that young children are unable to understand until they are about two years old."

Plotnik added that the elephants may be able to recognize themselves as separate from the environment or other objects. Their self-understanding -- proved by this test and the mirror test -- is quite rare in the animal kingdom.

The study is published in the journal Scientific Reports.

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