Lemur Social Behavior and Primate Intelligence

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Science  29 Jul 1966:
Vol. 153, Issue 3735, pp. 501-506
DOI: 10.1126/science.153.3735.501


Our human intellect has resulted from an enormous leap in capacity above the level of monkeys and apes. Earlier, though, Old and New World monkeys' intelligence outdistanced that of other mammals, including the prosimian primates. This first great advance in intelligence probably was selected through interspecific competition on the large continents. However, even at this early stage, primate social life provided the evolutionary context of primate intelligence.

Two arguments support this conclusion. One is ontogenetic: modern monkeys learn so much of their social behavior, and learn their behavior toward food and toward other species through social example. The second is phylogenetic: some prosimians, the social lemurs, have evolved the usual primate type of society and social learning without the capacity to manipulate objects as monkeys do. It thus seems likely that the rudiments of primate society preceded the growth of primate intelligence, made it possible, and determined its nature.