- The Washington Times - Friday, December 1, 2017

Researchers have counted the number of neurons in different species and crowned dogs as the smartest – saying the mass of neural connections puts them ahead in categories of thinking, planning and complex behavior.

The study was led by Suzana Herculano-Houzel, an associate professor of Psychology and Biological Sciences at Vanderbilt University. She created the method of accurately measuring the amount of neurons in the brain, the university said in a statement announcing the findings.

“I’m 100 percent a dog person,” Ms. Herculano-Houzel said in the statement, “but, with that disclaimer, our findings mean to me that dogs have the biological capability of doing much more complex and flexible things with their lives than cats can. At the least, we now have some biology that people can factor into their discussions about who’s smarter, cats or dogs.”

Dogs were found to have 530 million cortical neurons compared to cats with only about 250 million. The researchers had earlier thought that brain size corresponded with the number of neurons but in a comparison of brains, for example a dog and a brown bear — the dog had more neurons despite the brown bear having a significantly larger brain.

Researchers also looked at the brains of a ferret, mongoose, hyena, lion, brown bear and raccoon – which they called an “outlier,” packing the same amount of neurons as a dog into the brain a size of a cats.

“Raccoons are not your typical carnivoran,” said Ms. Herculano-Houzel. “They have a fairly small brain but they have as many neurons as you would expect to find in a primate … and that’s a lot of neurons.”

The researchers also found that other factors – carnivore vs. herbivores; wild vs. domesticated; big vs. small — had little or no impact on brain power.

The study is expected to be published in the journal Frontiers.

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