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Anim Cogn. 2007 Oct;10(4):429-37. Epub 2007 Mar 13.

When quantity trumps number: discrimination experiments in cotton-top tamarins (Saguinus oedipus) and common marmosets (Callithrix jacchus).

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Cognitive Evolution Laboratory, Department of Psychology, Harvard University, Cambridge, USA.


The capacity for non-linguistic, numerical discrimination has been well characterized in non-human animals, with recent studies providing careful controls for non-numerical confounds such as continuous extent, density, and quantity. More poorly understood are the conditions under which animals use numerical versus non-numerical quantification, and the nature of the relation between these two systems. Here we test whether cotton-top tamarins and common marmosets can discriminate between two quantities on the basis of the amount of food rather than on number. In three experiments, we show that when choosing between arrays containing different numbers and sizes of food objects, both species based their decisions on the amount of food with only minor influences of numerical information. Further, we find that subjects successfully discriminated between two quantities differing by a 2:3 or greater ratio, which is consistent with the ratio limits found for numerical discrimination with this species. These studies demonstrate that non-human primates possess mechanisms that enable quantification of total amount, in addition to the numerical representations demonstrated in previous studies, with both types of quantification subject to similar processing limits.

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