Are Animals Born With The Ability To Count?

Are Animals Born With The Ability To Count?

science Square
Science Square

Solving math problem is one such quality which sets human apart from the rest of animal kingdom. Despite this fact, there are some animals which do seem to have at least one basic mathematical ability - they can, in a sense, count.

In the early 1900s,

  • There was a claim that a horse named Clever Hans can count (could solve a math problem) and by tapping his hooves can indicate the correct answer.
  • Researchers later discovered that Clever Hans didn’t actually possess mathematical skills, but the horse really had impressive observation skills.

monkey counting

  • However, there are some modern instances which prove that animal does possess number sense. One such instance is a grey parrot Alex who could count and knew sums and differences.
  • When Clever Hans was unable to answer on his math quiz a century ago, there were still researchers going on the animal’s mathematical skills .after a lot of research it is now discovered in the recent decades that numerous species do actually have a "number sense," or the ability to discriminate between different quantities of objects.

Predictably, after humans, non-human primates appear to have the most advanced numerical skills. In the late 1980s, researchers showed that chimpanzees could add up the number of chocolates in two food bowls (up to five pieces of chocolate in each bowl), compare it with the sum of two other food bowls, and correctly opt the larger of the two sums 90 percent of the time.

Twenty years later, researchers conducted by Elizabeth Brannon of Duke University showed that:

  • Rhesus monkeys also have mathematical abilities and they could quickly count the number of objects on a screen about 80 percent as well as college students could.
  • In the consequent experiments, it was unveiled by the researchers that the monkeys could do math across the senses by matching the number of sounds they heard to the number of shapes they saw on a screen. 

Surprisingly lions also appear to have some mathematical abilities and a number sense related to sound. Past research showed that lion pride would choose to approach or retreat from sounds of roaring intruders (played from a loudspeaker) depending on how many intruders appeared to be roaring and how many members were in their own group.

Irene Pepperberg famous for her work of 30 years with Alex showed that even bees can learn to discriminate among small quantities. So it could be said that even some of the invertebrates can learn number sense.

Dissimilar to bees, fish aren't often known for their intelligence (though one fish, at least, has been caught red-finned using a rock "tool" to crack open a clam).Besides, these animals also have a number sense: Studies of guppies show the fish will preferentially choose to join shoals that have more fish (and are therefore safer).

Some researchers give a reflection that many animals possess mathematical skill by birth:

  • In 2015, it was discovered that there was a baby chick as young as 3 days old that could identify smaller and larger quantities.
  • Some of the other scientists, however, have shown by their research that chicks often show a bias for turning left or right, potentially skewing the data.

Whatever may be the case; our mathematical skills are not unique in the animal kingdom. In fact, it may not be something that's reserved for just animals: Venus flytraps can also "count."


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