ANIMAL INTELLIGENCE: UNDERSTANDING THE MINDS OF ANIMALS THROUGH THEIR BEHAVIORAL "AMBASSADORS"
Edward A. Wasserman
The University of Iowa
A century ago, publication of George J. Romanes' Animal Intelligence ( 1882) marked the beginning of the field of comparative psychology, a field that sought to define the dimensions of animal intelligence and to compare the intelligence of humans and animals. (For more on the origins of comparative psychology, see Jaynes, 1969, and Warden, 1928.) Romanes had been a close acquaintance of Charles Darwin and later published some of Darwin's notes posthumously in a second book, Mental Evolution in Animals ( 1883). Thus, in approaching the many questions of animal and human intelligence, Romanes accepted Darwin's evolutionary thesis and adopted Darwin's inductive approach, amassing voluminous reports relating exceptional feats of animal intelligence.
In the ensuing years, the Darwinian theory of evolution has achieved scientific respectability; however, reliance on largely unverifiable claims of animal genius has given way to exact experimental investigation under highly controlled, conditions. Unfortunately, for many decades, those experimental methods have been rather little used in disclosing the limits of animal intelligence or drawing meaningful parallels between human and animal cognition. Instead, these techniques have been widely used in giving a momentary empirical edge to warring theoretical camps (see Bower & Hilgard, 1981) in often arcane debates, many proving to be of little enduring significance (see Skinner, 1950).
Recent interest in two-way communication between humans and animals via sign languages has brought the attention of the behavioral science community back to the central concerns of comparative psychology. (See Wasserman, 1981, 1982, 1983 for further discussion and analysis of this trend.) Accordingly, it is appropriate to reexamine the basic ideas and tools of comparative psychology before we embark on our second century of inquiry into this fascinating domain. Here, a careful look at Romanes' Animal Intelligence provides a useful means of considering many of the enduring problems and procedures of comparative psychology; such an examination also permits us to appreciate better Romanes' place in this important field of scholarship.