An experimental study in mouse lemurs found that cognitive abilities and specific personality traits may increase longevity.
Knowing how to obtain food, water, shelter, and avoid predators are keys to the survival of many species, including humans. And cognitive abilities, or being smart, may play a significant role in whether an individual is successful at these pursuits.
But is having high intelligence one of the factors that affects longevity?
This is the question scientists from the German Primate Center set out to answer in their new research.
In the experimental study, published on July 12 in Science Advances, the scientists captured 198 wild gray mouse lemurs in Madagascar. The team focused on mouse lemurs because they are considered a favorable model for genetic, biomedical, and cognition research.
After capture, the scientists administered a series of assessments that measured the lemurs’ cognition, spatial memory, inhibitory control, and casual understanding. They also assessed the animals’ personalities through tests measuring exploratory behavior and curiosity about unfamiliar objects.
Some of the activities the researchers used to test these parameters included having the animals find food hidden in a puzzle box, navigating a maze, and facing unfamiliar objects like a toy car.
After releasing them back into their natural environment, the team tracked the lemurs, periodically capturing them to monitor their weight and survival over several years.
After analyzing the data, the team found that lemurs with superior cognitive performance, higher body weights, and robust exploratory behavior tended to live longer. Moreover, sex also predicted survival, with females living longer than males.
While lemurs who performed better on cognitive tests had less exploratory behavior, lemurs who exhibited more exploratory behavior had higher body weights. The researchers suspect that those with higher weights could find food more easily because of their inquisitive nature. At the same time, more intelligent but less explorative lemurs gathered more accurate information before making decisions.
The scientists say these findings suggest that having high intelligence or being more explorative may lead to a longer lifespan.
Still, the research focused on lemurs, not humans, so it’s unknown if intelligent or explorative people may enjoy more prolonged survival. However, the study authors suggest that if these traits are heritable, it could provide the basis for the evolution of cognitive abilities in humans.