wikimedia [pd]

wikimedia [pd]

OK, that’s totally inflammatory and untrue. But new research again shows there’s something to the concept that animals with complex social lives need bigger brains: Your neighborhood, figuratively, determines your intelligence.

Now, this research wasn’t conducted on actual humans. The scientist studied 104 other species of group-living primates, tallying the rate of conflict between group territories for each species. And he tallied skull size, which can tell you something about brain size, which can tell you something about intelligence.

The primate species with the most conflict between neighboring territories had the biggest skulls. Ergo, perhaps: Keeping track of your friends and enemies requires a lot of brain power; those who excel at it are more likely to live–and breed. Thus social strife can cause fat heads to evolve.

Given our colossal cranium, our truly freakish  intelligence in the animal kingdom, it might be supposed that our species is particularly prone to inter-territorial conflict. Naaah, us? C’mon.

Now, perhaps you’re saying to yourself, “Antelope live in big groups and they’re not even as intelligent as gym socks.” There’s a difference between herd animals and social animals. Herd critters (antelopes and many other grazers) gang together mainly because it reduces their risk from predators. Social animals (elephants, humans, wild dogs) use their relationships to improve their performance in other areas–food gathering, child-rearing, home-building.

Anyway, it’s interesting how our species continues to create bigger and bigger territories, like cities, like nations. And how we continue to cop a bit of an attitude about anyone from “outside” whatever group we consider ours at any given moment. Perhaps we are still getting smarter.

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