Understanding the Brain

Brain-to-body mass ratio

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Species Simple brain-to body ratio (E:S)[1]
small birds 1:12
human 1:40
mouse 1:40
cat 1:100
dog 1:125
frog 1:172
lion 1:550
elephant 1:560
horse 1:600
shark 1:2496
hippopotamus 1:2789

Brain-to-body mass ratio, also known as the brain to body weight ratio, is the ratio of brain weight to body weight, which is hypothesised to be a rough estimate of the intelligence of an animal. A more complex measurement, Encephalization quotient, takes into account allometric effects of widely divergent body sizes across several taxa.[2] The raw brain-to-body mass ratio is however simpler to come by, and is still a useful tool for comparing encephalization within species or between fairly closely related species.

Brain-body size relationship

Brain size usually increases with body size in animals (is positively correlated), i.e. large animals usually have larger brains than smaller animals.[1] The relationship is not linear however. Small mammals like mice have a direct brain/body size similar to humans, while elephants have comparatively small brain/body size, despite elephants being obviously intelligent animals.[1][3]

Intelligence in animals is hard to establish, but the larger the brain the more brain weight might be available for more complex cognitive tasks. However, large animals need more brain to control their body, so that relative rather than absolute brain size makes for a ranking of animals that coincide better with observed complexity of behaviour. The relationship between brain-to-body mass ratio and complexity of behaviour is not perfect as other factors also influence intelligence, like the evolution of the recent cerebral cortex and different degrees of brain folding,[4] which increase the surface of the cortex, which is positively correlated in humans to intelligence.[5]

Comparisons between groups

Dolphins have the highest brain-to-body weight ratio of all cetaceans.[6] Either octopuses[7] or jumping spiders[8] have the highest for an invertebrate. Humans have a higher brain-to-body weight ratio than any of these animals.[9][10] Sharks have one of the highest for fish (although the electrogenic elephantfish has a ratio nearly 100 times higher - about 1/34, which is slightly higher than that for humans).[11] The tiny shrew, which holds nearly 10% of its body mass in its brain, has the highest brain-to-body mass ratio of any known animal. Mean EQ for reptiles are about one tenth of the EQ for mammals. EQ in birds (and estimated EQ in dinosaurs) generally also falls below that of mammals, partly due to lower thermoregulation and/or motor control demands.[12]

It is a trend that the larger the animal gets, the smaller the relative brain size gets. Large whales have very small brains compared to their weight, and small rodents have huge brains. One explanation could be that as an animal's brain gets larger, the size of the neural cells remains the same, and more nerve cells will cause the brain to increase in size to a lesser degree than the rest of the body. This phenomenon has been called the cephalization factor; E = CS2, where E and S are body and brain weights and C is the cephalization factor.[7] Just focusing on the relationship between the body and the brain is not enough; one also has to consider the total size of the animal.

In the essay "Bligh's Bounty",[13] Stephen Jay Gould noted that if one looks at vertebrates with very low encephalization quotient, their brains are slightly less massive than their spinal cords. Theoretically, intelligence might correlate with the absolute amount of brain an animal has after subtracting the weight of the spinal cord from the brain. This formula is useless for invertebrates because they do not have spinal cords, or in some cases, central nervous systems.

Brain to Lean-Body Mass ratio

The brain to LBM (lean body mass) ratio is a better indicator than the brain to gross body mass ratio. Cetaceans have a much higher percentage of body fat compared to non-obese humans (30-40%), as the average fat percentage of non-obese humans is 15% for men and 25% for women, increasing marginally with age. If we estimate the gross body mass of a bottlenose dolphin at 250 kg and the percentage of body fat at 30 and deduct the 75 kg of fat mass from gross body mass, the LBM will be approximately 175 kg, brain mass approximately 1,700 gram (1.7 kilograms), which lifts the percentage of brain mass very close to 1% of LBM. These figures are just an example, because the gross body mass of bottlenose dolphins can be anywhere between 200 and 500 kg. There is, however, another argument for this thesis, based on the brain-to-body ratio of men and women. Females generally have a somewhat smaller brain volume than males, but if you correct for the higher percentage of body fat in women the ratio/EQ will be the same as in males.


Recent research indicates that whole brain size is a better measure of cognitive abilities than brain-to-body mass ratio for primates at least.[14]

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 "Brain and Body Size... and Intelligence". Serendip.brynmawr.edu. 2003-03-07. http://serendip.brynmawr.edu/bb/kinser/Int3.html. Retrieved 2011-05-12. 
  2. "Development of Intelligence". Ircamera.as.arizona.edu. http://ircamera.as.arizona.edu/NatSci102/NatSci102/lectures/intelligence.htm. Retrieved 2011-05-12. 
  3. Hart, B.L.; L.A. Hart, M. McCoy, C.R. Sarath (November 2001). "Cognitive behaviour in Asian elephants: use and modification of branches for fly switching". Animal Behaviour (Academic Press) 62 (5): 839–847. doi:10.1006/anbe.2001.1815. http://www.ingentaconnect.com/content/ap/ar/2001/00000062/00000005/art01815. Retrieved 2007-10-30. 
  4. "Cortical Folding and Intelligence". http://serendip.brynmawr.edu/bb/kinser/Int4.html. Retrieved 2008-09-15. 
  5. Haier, R.J., Jung, R.E., Yeo, R.C., Head, K. and Alkired, M.T. (2004): Structural brain variation and general intelligence. NeuroImage Vol. 23, Issue 1, September 2004, Pages 425-433 summary
  6. Marino, L. and Sol, D. and Toren, K. and Lefebvre, L. (2006). "Does diving limit brain size in cetaceans?". Marine Mammal Science 22 (2): 413–425. doi:10.1111/j.1748-7692.2006.00042.x. http://biology.mcgill.ca/faculty/lefebvre/articles/Marinoetal_2006.pdf. 
  7. 7.0 7.1 Gould (1977)Ever since Darwin, c7s1
  8. "Jumping Spider Vision". http://tolweb.org/accessory/Jumping_Spider_Vision?acc_id=1946. Retrieved 2009-10-28. 
  9. James K. Riling; Insel, TR (1999). "The Primate Neocortex in Comparative Perspective using Magnetic Resonance Imaging". Journal of Human Evolution 37 (2): 191–223. doi:10.1006/jhev.1999.0313. PMID 10444351. http://linkinghub.elsevier.com/retrieve/pii/S0047248499903135. 
  10. Suzana Herculano-Houzel (2009). "The Human Brain in Numbers- A Linearly Scaled-Up Primae Brain". Frontiers in Human Neuroscience 2: 1–11 (2). doi:10.3389/neuro.09.031.2009. http://www.frontiersin.org/humanneuroscience/paper/10.3389/neuro.09/031.2009/pdf/. 
  11. Nilsson, Göran E. (1996). "Brain And Body Oxygen Requirements Of Gnathonemus Petersii, A Fish With An Exceptionally Large Brain". The Journal of Experimental Biology 199: 603–607. http://jeb.biologists.org/content/199/3/603.full.pdf. 
  12. Paul, Gregory S. (1988) Predatory dinosaurs of the world. Simon and Schuster. ISBN 0671619462
  13. "Bligh's Bounty". Archived from the original on 2001-07-09. http://web.archive.org/web/20010709234346/http://yoyo.cc.monash.edu.au/~tzvi/GOULD.html. Retrieved 2011-05-12. 
  14. Overall Brain Size, and Not Encephalization Quotient, Best Predicts Cognitive Ability across Non-Human Primates. Brain Behav Evol 2007;70:115-124 (DOI: 10.1159/000102973)[1]

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