Social carnivores outperform asocial carnivores on an innovative problem

Natalia Borrego, Michael Gaines

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

23 Scopus citations


The social intelligence hypothesis proposes that social complexity selects for cognitive complexity. However, the role of social complexity in the evolution of nonsocial cognition remains unresolved, resulting in disparate hypotheses. The domain-specific hypothesis posits that sociality only bolsters cognition associated with social challenges and contends that ecological complexity drives the evolution of nonsocial cognition. Alternatively, the domain-general hypothesis argues that the unmatched selective pressures of sociality favour greater cognitive flexibility and ultimately superior general cognition. We tested these hypotheses through experimental comparisons of nonsocial cognition in social and asocial carnivores: lions, Panthera leo, spotted hyaenas, Crocuta crocuta, leopards, Panthera pardus, and tigers, Panthera tigris. We tested subjects using a technical task, a puzzle-box, designed to test innovation. Social species were more successful innovators than asocial species. We also observed a positive association between sociality, persistence and innovation; social species spent significantly more time engaged in the task, and persistent individuals were more successful in solving the task. Thus, our findings support the domain-general hypothesis; social carnivores outperformed asocial carnivores on an innovative problem.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)21-26
Number of pages6
JournalAnimal Behaviour
StatePublished - Apr 1 2016


  • Animal behaviour
  • Animal cognition
  • Innovation
  • Innovative problem solving
  • Social intelligence

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Animal Science and Zoology


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