The story of intelligence is the story of compassion

Dscn0402Could the secret to human intelligence be our willingness to cooperate, to restrain the competitive instinct, to set aside societal inequality? Primatologist Brian Hare, recently named by Smithsonian Magazine as one of America's top young innovators, believes the answer may be yes

Unlike Chimpanzees, dogs are able to infer human intentions. A dog can, for example, understanding what its owner means when she points to food or to a favorite chew toy hidden from view across the room. And as the result of some really fascinating tests he's developed, Hare believes that dogs - and bonobos, another of his subjects - have developed this ability to read intentions through cooperative strategies that minimize - or at least temporarily set aside - social hierarchies in favor of a mutual goals. Chimpanzees, which are live in strict social orders, often fail, surprisingly, to cooperate to problem solve even when there is a clear benefit for all that can be obtained by working together.

That willingness - or unwillingness - to set aside differences may have enormous consequences.


Hare and others have speculated that social and emotional skills led to the evolution of intelligence in the great apes and humans. Since the 1970's, some scientists have claimed that animals are more likely to survive and reproduce if they are able to read social cues - to keep track of what other group members are up to and to deceive them if necessary. But Hare focuses on a slightly different type of social intelligence, the ability to work with others, regardless of whether they are strangers or rank lower in the social hierarchy.

There's a lesson here for us Hare says: 'It's true humans have bigger brains and language, and so forth. But we would not have evolved the kind of intelligence we have - the kind that allows us to use our brains together, to build things, to be mentally flexible - if we hadn't had a shift in temperament....' Controlling one's fears, paying attention to others, finding joy in working with others - that's the path to intelligence, he says, whether for dogs, apes or humans.

Bringing the story forward, Yale psychologist Daniel Goleman has pioneered this understanding of emotional intelligence in his work and publications, and discusses the idea in a popular TED video that may interest you. Have a great weekend,