Can Animals Count?

Can animals count?  NOT A CHANCE.

Animals such as Chickens? NO

Horses? NO

What about Monkeys? Hmmmm NO

These being my first responses to the burning questions Richard asked in the Discovering Mathematics workshop a few days ago. Although other students and the video clips played were very convincing, I just couldn’t begin to believe this could be the case.

Video taken from youtube – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aq_mVmai56g

First we encountered Clever Hans the horse from 1891. This horse was put on show for the public after his German owner, William Von Osten, claimed his horse could count by stamping his hoof the number of times that the answer was to be. (Jackson, 2005) His owner believed that animals were capable of counting so started to test the theory with other animals. However, it was only Hans that was capable. Later, after psychologists ran tests on Hans and viewed Von Osten’s show it was concluded that the horse only reacted from the facial expressions given off by the questioner.(Jackson, 2005) Therefore, I concluded, by no surprise, that horses can not count under any circumstances. I believed it to be more like training a dog to do tricks, but training a horse instead.

The next one got me thinking a little bit … Ayumu the chimpanzee.

I thought maybe through evolution, chimps, or monkeys etc. would be the most likely  animals to be able to count (if any). I was still so closed off to the idea until a video clip was played. Chimps vs Humans. Numbers from 1-9 were flashed on a screen in a mixed up format. They were displayed for a very short amount of time  then quickly (after a fraction of a second)  covered up with boxes. (Roast et al, 2013) Ayumu and the humans would both have to click on the boxes in  the correct order where the numbers 1-9 would have been. This was a test to see whom responded in the fastest time and all correctly. If they were all identified correctly they would be rewarded with a peanut. Surprisingly Ayumus time (210 milliseconds)  was amazingly better than the humans , whom were not often able to complete the challenge. When it was tested between other chimps in the family Ayumu was the one who had the best ability to recognise shapes, order and positioning. (Roast et al, 2013) This seems to me, to be a memory game and with a food reward…animals were guaranteed to win.

I mean, maybe animals are more clever than we think … but can they count?

I wouldn’t say so!

Ayumus Challenge!

http://www.novelgames.com/en/ayumu/

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Picture from Google Images – io9.com

References 

Jackson, J. (2005) Home. Available at: http://www.critical-thinking.org.uk/psychology/the-clever-hans-effect.php (Accessed: 7 October 2015).

Roast, A., Shrotri, K., Mobley, E. and Stoker, N. (2013) Counting chimp. Available at: http://www.isciencemag.co.uk/features/counting-chimp/ (Accessed: 7 October 2015).

1 thought on “Can Animals Count?

  1. Kim Rennie

    Very interesting post Samantha, quite similar to my one on the same topic. Good to see your opinion on the discussion!

    Reply

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