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Smarter than the Average Bearbear paw

Learn about how scientists test how smart animals are.

Are you smarter than the average bear? You may have heard that phrase before and not thought much of it. But why are we using bears to compare how smart we are? The answer is pretty simple: it’s because of Yogi. Yes, that lovable picnic basket thief cartoon character from Jellystone Park.

But there is more to the story than just the charming, tie-wearing bear that first came into our living rooms in 1958. And it turns out Yogi might not actually be smarter than the average bear.

In 2012, two doctors, Jennifer Vonk and Michael Beran, decided to test just how smart bears are. It is an area of study known as Comparative Psychology, or the study of how smart one animal is compared to others by using similar tests.

The test they ran had bears tapping on touch screen computers. They taught some bears to tap on the screen with more dots, while others tapped on the screen with fewer dots. It is a test that is done on a lot of monkeys and apes to see if they understand numbers. Sometimes scientists give birds and fish similar tests.

The reason scientists study animals using this method is that human babies do well on them. When we are born, we naturally can tell when there are more things in one pile than in another pile. This natural human instinct gives comparative psychologists a starting point to understanding how smart different animals are.

So maybe Yogi was just an average bear, because, as it turns out, bears are pretty smart! Although Yogi could talk and he wore a tie, so who knows.

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