Can Animals Count?

There are similarities between humans and animals, yes, but do they have the ability to count? I would have originally said not a chance, however after today’s input I’m not so sure.

We looked at various examples of animals “counting” the first being Clever Hans. Clever Hans was around in the 1900’s, he was a horse that could supposedly do simple mathematics, like counting and square roots. His owner would ask him a question for example 1 + 1, and Clever Hans would answer the question by in this case tapping his hoof twice. The initial idea of this is incredible, an animal working out basic maths! When you dig deeper however things are what they seem. The owner of the horse, Wihelm von Osten, would perform these tricks with his horse in front of crowds in public and amaze them. It was after a formal investigation by psychologist Oskar Pfungst that revealed the horse was not actually performing these tricks, instead he was reacting to the observers around him. This showed a fault in this experiment, as there were no variables to prove the horses tricks. Although on the outside it looks like this horse can count, with a little deeper dig it shows that he can’t technically count. I do wonder if the horse does have a sense of maths, by being able to tap his foot twice?

Another example we looked at was chimps counting and remembering sequences of numbers. The video showed chimps counting up to nine, touching the right order of numbers on screen. It then showed the chimps being shown numbers on a screen and then disappearing. They then had to remember where the numbers were and count in order. Humans then did the same test and actually did considerably worse than the chimps! The video was pretty impressive and after having a go as a class, it revealed how hard the test is, so for chimps to be able to complete it was fascinating! One explanation, however, could be that the reward of peanuts means more to chimps than humans. The chimp still had a concept of numbers and the sequence, so therefore it can count?

Finally, another example of animals counting is the chicks. The scientists conducting the experiment had two screens, and some plastic balls attached to string. They would move the balls behind the screens as the chickens watched from inside a clear box. Once there was 3 balls behind one screen and 2 behind the other, the chicks were released and each time the experiment was conducted, the chicks would go to the screen that had the most balls behind it. This showed that the chicks were able to count how many balls went behind each screen and then remember which one had the most. This is related to instinct, as chicks will also follow the larger group when they are first born. However this experiment shows that these untrained, young chicks had an awareness of numbers and counting.

So, even though not all the experiments were valid as a result of some influencing factors, I believe that overall animals have an awareness of numbers and to a certain extent, the ability to count. I knew animals were clever but I wouldn’t of agreed with anyone that told me they could count until now.

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