Monkeys perform arithmetic as well as college students

December 17, 2007

Adult humans possess mathematical abilities that are unmatched by any other member of the animal kingdom. Yet, there is increasing evidence that the ability to count sets of objects nonverbally is a capacity that humans share with other animal species. This week in the open-access journal PLoS Biology, Elizabeth Brannon and Jessica Cantlon set out to discover whether humans and nonhuman animals also share a capacity for nonverbal arithmetic. The researchers tested monkeys and college students on a nonverbal arithmetic task in which they had to add the numerical values of two sets of dots together and choose a stimulus from two options that reflected the arithmetic sum of the two sets. The results indicate that monkeys perform approximate mental addition in a manner that is remarkably similar to the performance of the college students. These findings support the argument that humans and nonhuman primates share a cognitive system for nonverbal arithmetic, which likely reflects an evolutionary link in their cognitive abilities.
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Citation: Cantlon JF, Brannon EM (2007) Basic math in monkeys and college students. PLoS Biol 5(12): e328. doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.0050328

CONTACT:
Jessica F. Cantlon
Duke University
Durham, NC 27705
Bethesda, MD 20892
+1-919-668-0437
jfc2@duke.edu

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