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Higher cognitive ability linked to longer lives, study finds

[July 14, 2023: Staff Writer, The Brighter Side of News]

Cognitive abilities, while varying considerably among different species, are also strikingly diverse within a single species. (CREDIT: Creative Commons)

Cognitive abilities, while varying considerably among different species, are also strikingly diverse within a single species. A compelling new study delves into the world of the gray mouse lemur, revealing remarkable insights about these primates' cognitive abilities and their correlation with lifespan.

Conventional wisdom suggests that the smarter the creature, the longer its life expectancy – a theory that seemingly stems from the idea that superior decision-making skills, be it in habitat and food selection, predator avoidance, or infant care, would confer survival benefits.


To test this hypothesis and understand the intricate factors that influence the life expectancy of wild gray mouse lemurs, a team of dedicated researchers from the German Primate Center embarked on a comprehensive long-term study in Madagascar.

The groundbreaking research involved a detailed examination of 198 gray mouse lemurs, incorporating a suite of four cognitive tests, two personality assessments, as well as ongoing weight measurements and survival tracking over several years.


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The cognition tests encompassed four different dimensions: problem-solving, spatial memory, inhibitory control, and causal understanding. Problem-solving was assessed by the lemurs' ability to manipulate a slider to access food, spatial memory was evaluated by how they remembered the location of hidden food, inhibitory control was measured by their ability to take a detour to reach food, and causal understanding was demonstrated by pulling a string to retrieve food.

Complementing these cognitive tests, the researchers also assessed the lemurs' personalities. One test evaluated exploratory behavior, and another gauged curiosity through the animals' reactions to unfamiliar objects.


In a fascinating twist, the study found an intriguing correlation between cognitive performance and exploratory behavior. Lemurs that performed better in cognitive tests exhibited less exploratory behavior than their lower-performing peers. In contrast, lemurs that were more explorative had higher weights – a finding that the researchers believe is likely due to their improved ability to find food more readily.

Collared with a special logger, we collect activity data of this grey mouse lemur during the dry season in Madagascar. (CREDIT: Johanna Henke-von-der-Malsburg)

The comprehensive analysis went a step further, revealing that lemurs exhibiting better cognitive performance, higher weight, and stronger exploratory behavior tended to enjoy longer lifespans. Claudia Fichtel, the lead author of the study and a scientist at the German Primate Center, noted, “These results suggest that being either smart or exhibiting good physical condition and exploratory behavior are likely to be different strategies that can lead to a longer lifespan.”


The study's groundbreaking insights highlight the variety of survival strategies in the animal kingdom, where both cognitive prowess and physical adaptability can lead to longer life. This diverse set of survival skills further underscores the intricate and complex mechanisms at play in natural selection, demonstrating that both brain and brawn can be equally valuable assets in the wild.

Test apparatuses for cognitive and personality tests. Test apparatuses that were used to investigate performance in the four cognitive and two personality tasks. (CREDIT: Science Advances)

Looking ahead, Fichtel and her team aim to further investigate how these cognitive abilities translate into behavioral strategies for food-finding or mate-selection. This upcoming research promises to deepen our understanding of the interplay between cognition, behavior, and survival in gray mouse lemurs and beyond, potentially offering a broader understanding of the evolutionary mechanisms that have shaped life on Earth.


In the world of scientific research, this comprehensive study offers more than just intriguing insights into the life of the gray mouse lemur. It serves as a reminder that understanding the diverse strategies employed by different species for survival is key to appreciating the complexity and resiliency of life.

For more science news stories check out our New Discoveries section at The Brighter Side of News.


Note: Materials provided by The Brighter Side of News. Content may be edited for style and length.


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