Compared to other hyenas, the spotted hyena shows a greater relative amount of frontal cortex which is involved in the mediation of social behavior. Studies strongly suggest convergent evolution in spotted hyena and primate intelligence. A study done by evolutionary anthropologists demonstrated that spotted hyenas outperform chimpanzees on cooperative problem-solving tests; captive pairs of spotted hyenas were challenged to tug two ropes in unison to earn a food reward, successfully cooperating and learning the maneuvers quickly without prior training. Experienced hyenas even helped inexperienced clan-mates to solve the problem. In contrast, chimps and other primates often require extensive training, and cooperation between individuals is not always as easy for them.

 The intelligence of the spotted hyena was attested to by Dutch colonists in 19th-century South Africa, who noted that hyenas were exceedingly cunning and suspicious, particularly after successfully escaping from traps. Spotted hyenas seem to plan on hunting specific species in advance; hyenas have been observed to indulge in activities such as scent marking before setting off to hunt zebras, a behaviour which does not occur when they target other prey species. Also, spotted hyenas have been recorded to utilise deceptive behaviour, including giving alarm calls during feeding when no enemies are present, thus frightening off other hyenas and allowing them to temporarily eat in peace. Similarly, mothers will emit alarm calls in attempting to interrupt attacks on their cubs by other hyenas.