Bigger Does Not Always Mean Better
Do any of you know a person who brags about the size of their brain? You know the type—they go on and on about how smart they are, they may have an x-ray of their brain framed somewhere in their home, and most likely they rank their intelligence as that of Einstein (or higher). If you do happen to know someone like that, then now is your chance to gain the upper hand.
Why? Having a bigger brain does not mean having more intelligence. That’s right, a tiny little ant can have as much intelligence (or even more) than much larger animals—including humans. Go ahead—you can rub this information in their face, if you wish.
In the Nov. 17th issue of the journal Current Biology, scientists argue this very point. They discovered past studies show that larger animals may simply need a larger brain because they have more to control. In other words, it takes more nerves for a blue whale to move its body than it takes a moth to move theirs, but that doesn’t mean the whale is more intelligent. They also argue that when a burst in human intelligence happened millions of years ago, it was not because of brain size alone.
Lars Chittka, a Professor of sensory and behavioral ecology at Queen Mary, University of London, states:
“In bigger brains we often don’t find more complexity, just an endless repetition of the same neural circuits over and over. This might add detail to remembered images or sounds, but not add any degree of complexity. To use a computer analogy, bigger brains might in many cases be bigger hard drives, not necessarily better processors.”
Chittka and his colleague Jeremy Niven of the University of Cambridge found numerous studies showing insects are capable of intelligent behavior. Now, a honeybee’s brain weighs only a milligram and contains less than a million nerve cells. A whale’s brain, on the other hand, can weigh up to 20 pounds (9 kg) and have over 200 billion nerve cells. That’s quite a difference, though it does make one wonder where dinosaurs come into play in this situation.
Another thing the researchers suggest is that “advanced” thinking does not require many neurons. Consciousness itself can be generated with tiny neural circuits, as shown by computer models; and may not require more than a few thousand nerve cells to achieve.
If you do decide to gloat to your big-brained friend or family member about this, make no mistake: most increases in brain size do not affect intelligence, but some do. However, most of the size changes occur in certain regions of the brain and not the entire brain itself. These changes may be displayed through a better sense of sight, smell or hearing.
Oh, and if you are curious about the human brain: they vary between 2.75 and 3.2 pounds (1.25 kg and 1.45 kg) and contain approximately 85 billion nerve cells.
By Heidi Marshall