Which is smarter: a cat or a dog? This question has stumped experts throughout the ages and has been impossible to answer due to complex nature of intelligence of both the animals. Now, the researchers at Vanderbilt University have managed to come up with an answer by calculating the number of neurons in their cerebral cortex. And it turns out – dogs are smarter.
For the study, Sciences Suzana Herculano-Houzel, Associate Professor of Psychology and Biological Sciences and an author of the study, developed a method to accurately measure the number of neurons in brains, specifically in the cerebral cortex – the folded and wrinkled little gray matter outside of the cerebrum associated with thinking, planning and complex behavioural characteristics.
“I believe the absolute number of neurons an animal has, especially in the cerebral cortex, determines the richness of their internal mental state and their ability to predict what is about to happen in their environment based on past experience,” Herculano-Houzel explained.
They found that dogs have about 530 million cortical neurons while cats have about 250 million, which means “dogs have the biological capability of doing much more complex and flexible things with their lives than cats can.” (The human brain holds about 16 billion of them.)
Researchers also analyzed the brains of one or two specimens from each of eight carnivoran species, including ferret, mongoose, raccoon, cat, dog, hyena, lion and brown bear, and looked at how “the numbers of neurons in their brains relate to the size of their brains.” Well, it turns out – the bigger the brain the animal has doesn’t necessarily mean that the animal possesses more cortical neurons.
For example, the brain of a golden retriever was found to have more cortical neurons than a hyena, lion or brown bear, even though they have brains three times larger. Interestingly, the brown bear has about the same number of neurons as a cat, although its brain is 10 times larger.
The Raccoon also appears to have a well-developed brain. With a brain the size of a cat’s, raccoons have a neuronal density similar to that of a dog.
“Raccoons are not your typical carnivoran,” said Herculano-Houzel. “They have a fairly small brain but they have as many neurons as you would expect to find in a primate … and that’s a lot of neurons.”
“Diversity is enormous. Not every species is made the same way. Yes, there are recognizable patterns, but there are multiple ways that nature has found of putting brains together—and we’re trying to figure out what difference that makes,” she added.
Well, everyone is pretty clear that there are dog people and then there are cat people. While this study is a win for dog lovers, another controversial study at Carroll University claimed that cat people are smarter than dog people. In the study, researchers looked for personality traits in 600 college students and asked how they felt about their companionships with dogs and cats. 60 percent of the participants turned out to be dog people, while only 11 percent were cat people and the rest were either both or neither.
The study found that while dog people valued the companionship from their pets, and they tended to be more energetic, outgoing, extroverted and meticulous; cat people liked the affection and they were introverts, non-conformists, open-minded sensitive thinkers. Cat lovers also scored higher on intelligence tests than dog people. Another study at Bristol University showed that cat owners are likely to have college degrees, and they are the worthy companion for bibliophiles who prefer to stay indoors mostly.
Honestly speaking, there’s no right answer to who is smarter. It’s like asking “which is better: dogs or cats?”
The study, entitled “Dogs have the most neurons, though not the largest brain: Trade-off between body mass and number of neurons in the cerebral cortex of large carnivoran species” has been published in the journal Frontiers in Neuroanatomy.