One possible reason would be because intelligent give humans, and only humans, evolutionary edge compared to their peers. Gorilla, for example, are strong because strength give Gorilla evolutionary edge. For our species, that's intelligence. But how?

What evolutionary advantage does having high "intelligence" does to humans?

My friend told me that the greatest benefit of intelligence is that we "deceive" others betters.

Is that the main use of intelligent?

Deceiving others? Many of my mensa friends are honest. If anything I hate lies in any form except for jokes. Also we don't seem to have more children than normies.

How does having, say, high IQ help a person reproduce?

  • $\begingroup$ Bear in mind intelligence doesn't just help you deceive others; it also helps you to not be deceived. Like many things in evolution, it sets up an arms race, by which innovation continues but net progress might not. $\endgroup$
    – J.G.
    Nov 7, 2018 at 21:29
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ You ask many different questions here. What is your primary question? $\endgroup$
    – Steven Jeuris
    Nov 9, 2018 at 18:47
  • $\begingroup$ I think why we are the smartest species and is deceiving others the main use of it is a very related question. An answer to the latter would also answer the former. $\endgroup$
    – user4234
    Nov 11, 2018 at 19:41

2 Answers 2


I just finished a special issue on 'Humans - Why we're unlike any other species on the planet' (Sci Am, September 2018).

In this issue, Kevin Laland has a paper (How we became a different kind of animal) and he nicely abstracts the answer to your question in your question title: Why are we the smartest species on the whole known universe?, namely:

  • Human accomplishments derive from our ability to acquire knowledge from others and to use that communal store of experience to devise novel solutions to life's challenges.
  • Other species innovate, too. Chimps open nuts with stone hammers. Dolphins use a tool to flush out hidden prey.
  • Our uniqueness has to do with a capacity to teach skills to others over the generations with enough precision for building skyscrapers or going to the moon.

Now, relating to your question body's focus, What [is the] evolutionary advantage [of] having [a] high "intelligence" [for] humans?

In that same special issue, Chet C. Sherwood explains this question in his contribution 'Are we wired differently? by saying:

Modern human brains are about threefold larger than those of our closest hominin acestors []. [T]he parts of the cerebral cortex involved in higher-order cognitive functions, such as creativity and abstract thinking, have become especially enlarged. These [...] association regions [...] are loci for language, toolmaking and imitation.

Now, that last sentence couples the two papers nicely - we need that bigger brain to allow us to use language and imitation to be able to teach and learn, respectively.

Your next question, regarding that My friend told me that the greatest benefit of intelligence is that we "deceive" others betters - Now that is exactly what is not the consensus as of now.

Thomas Suddendorf, again in that same special issue explains in his paper 'Two key features created the human mind':

Why are we, and not gorillas, running the zoos? [...]. Research has revealed two distinct human features: complex scenario building and exchanging thoughts with others.Together these traits underlie critical human capacities such as language, culture., [and] morality [...].

Michael Tomasello, [yes, again that same issue], explains in his paper The Origins of Human Morality - How we learned to put our fate in one another’s hands:

[...] [S]ituations of reciprocity can arise in which I scratch your back and you scratch mine and we both benefit in the long run.

While chimps may hunt together, when the bounty has been found and captured, the feeding is an individual matter. In contrast, humans have the tendency to take care for the group, and share food. Taking care of the group eventually pays itself of, as the group will take care of you. This is enhanced by the sense of morality, in which you will do no harm to others. If you do, you will be excluded from the group, and no one will scratch your back.

Seeds of human morality were planted some 400,000 years ago, when individuals began to collaborate in hunting-and-gathering exploits.

- Special issue of Sci Am, September 2018

  • $\begingroup$ "humans have the tendency to take care for the group, because in the end, the group will take care of you" - are you trying to say that this is uniquely human? One could argue that it applies to most social animals. And "morality" may be uniquely human if defined that way, but other animals have an understanding of fairness and other key aspects of morality. $\endgroup$
    – Bryan Krause
    Nov 7, 2018 at 21:43
  • $\begingroup$ @BryanKrause - I half-finished that sentence - thanks. There are subtle yet important differences between, eg, chimps and us. Morality and taking care for others goes a step further, as I hopefully explained now in my answer. And of course, there are similarities; ravens use tools and can even count. It's the sum of all. $\endgroup$
    – AliceD
    Nov 7, 2018 at 21:47

The evolution of higher intelligence in hominids is an empirically difficult enough evolutionary question that (a) it might be better for biology.se and (b) any answer needs to be taken with a pinch of salt, but I'll give you a feel for it. By that I mean, "watch the way multiple accidents of evolutionary history made evolution more favourable among our ancestors than most animals".

The 2003 documentary Walking with Cavemen discussed one model of what happened to early hominids: a decline in African rainforest coverage c. 8 Mya led to arboreal primates evolving bipedalism for more efficient locomotion, and this meant hands no longer compromised between movement and tool usage. Hand-brain co-evolution would have involved a positive feedback, which may (or may not - always bear that in mind) be part of the reason for rapid brain growth among Australopithecines. The same documentary also discussed how subsequent climate change in Africa changed the ecosystem enough to provide new nutrition opportunities for early Homo species, and how the move from North Africa to West Asia led to bamboo tools.

There are many models for what encouraged the evolution of higher intelligence in our ancestors, at various points in the past 5 Mya or so. The reason a trait is more favoured in one species than another comes down to unique cost-benefit analyses. Large brains are expensive, but the shift from a mostly herbivorous diet to one more reliant on meat, especially bone marrow (which only hominid tools could access), is part of why they were "worth it" in our genus.


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