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Cognition. 2001 May;79(3):239-62.

Can rhesus monkeys spontaneously subtract?

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Department of Psychology, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA 02138, USA.


Animals, including pigeons, parrots, raccoons, ferrets, rats, New and Old World monkeys, and apes are capable of numerical computations. Much of the evidence for such capacities is based on the use of techniques that require training. Recently, however, several studies conducted under both laboratory and field conditions have employed methods that tap spontaneous numerical representations in animals, including human infants. In this paper, we present the results of 11 experiments exploring the capacity of semi-free-ranging adult rhesus monkeys to spontaneously compute (i.e. single trial, no training) the outcome of subtraction events. In the basic design, we present one quantity of objects on one stage, a second quantity on a second stage, occlude both stages, and then remove one or no objects from each stage. Having watched these events, a subject is then allowed to approach one stage and eat the food objects behind the occluder. Results show that rhesus monkeys correctly compute the outcome of subtraction events involving three or less objects on each stage, even when the identity of the objects is different. Specifically, when presented with two food quantities, rhesus monkeys select the larger quantity following subtractions of one piece of food from two or three; this preference is maintained when subjects must distinguish food from non-food subtractions, and when food is subtracted from either one or both initial quantities. Furthermore, rhesus monkeys are capable of representing zero as well as equality when two identical quantities are contrasted. Results are discussed in light of recent attempts to determine how number is represented in the brains of animals lacking language.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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