New research from Duke University suggests that monkeys can do basic mental addition almost as well as college students. Non-human primates are really showing off these days; just a few weeks ago young chimps beat people at memory games.
"We know that animals can recognize quantities, but there is less evidence for their ability to carry out explicit mathematical tasks, such as addition," said graduate student Jessica Cantlon. "Our study shows that they can."Link (Thanks, Lindsay Tiemeyer!)
Cantlon and (neuroscientist Elizabeth) Brannon set up an experiment in which macaque monkeys were placed in front of a computer touch screen displaying a variable number of dots. Those dots were then removed and a new screen appeared with a different number of dots. A third screen then appeared displaying two boxes; one containing the sum of the first two sets of dots and one containing a different number. The monkeys were rewarded for touching the box containing the correct sum of the sets.
The same test was presented to college students, who were asked to choose the correct sum without counting the individual dots. While the college students were correct 94 percent the time and the monkeys 76 percent, the average response time for both monkeys and humans was about one second....
That monkeys and humans share the ability to add suggests that basic arithmetic may be part of our shared evolutionary past.
David Pescovitz is Boing Boing's co-editor/managing partner. He's also a research director at Institute for the Future. On Instagram, he's @pesco.