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Math Science

Experiment Suggests Monkeys Can Do Basic Math 87

Posted by samzenpus
from the I-waana-add-like-you-hoo-hoo dept.
sciencehabit (1205606) writes "It looks like a standardized test question: Is the sum of two numbers on the left or the single number on the right larger? Rhesus macaques that have been trained to associate numerical values with symbols can get the answer right, even if they haven't passed a math class. The finding doesn't just reveal a hidden talent of the animals—it also helps show how the mammalian brain encodes the values of numbers. Previous research has shown that chimpanzees can add single-digit numbers. But scientists haven’t explained exactly how, in the human or the monkey brain, numbers are being represented or this addition is being carried out. Now, a new study (abstract) helps begin to answer those questions."
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Experiment Suggests Monkeys Can Do Basic Math

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  • by mmell (832646) <mike.mell@gmail.com> on Monday April 21, 2014 @04:58PM (#46809425)
    That's actually good to know. Question - given a full bowl of food and a half-full bowl of the same food, will your average house pet pick one preferentially over the other? What about if it's trained to expect the other bowl to be removed immediately after it chooses one?

    It would be nice to see what animals are capable of this kind of differentiation - although the ability of Rhesus macaques to use symbolic representations to differentiate between 'more' and 'less' appears to be significant on several levels (at least, to me).

    • The field of behavioural psychology is filled to the brim with experiments of this nature.

      If you are truly interested you should do some reading.
    • Hmm... quantitative comparisons (this type of problem) were eliminated from the SAT some years ago because they were too hard or too abstract or maybe because they required abstract reasoning which was not taught directly in schools or something.

      Anyhow, now we've demonstrated that a trained monkey can do these kinds of questions. Anyone else wonder what that says about our expectations regarding abstract reasoning for even high school kids?

  • by Anonymous Coward

    ...of the Rise of the Planet of the Apes.

  • We can't have scientists doing experiments like these! Think of all the minimum wage jobs workers!
  • Fine, but doing the Macarena well is much more profitable for a monkey.

  • Scientist: If I give you three bananas, then another two bananas, how many bananas do you have?
    Dr. Zira: I don't like bananas!

  • Of course Rhesus monkeys can do math, how could we have Rhesus positive and Rhesus negative blood types if they couldn't?
  • My accounting department and midmanagement is full of 'em.

    • You should be ashamed of yourself, calling accountants and (likely) MBAs monkeys...

      Do you have any idea how much it depresses monkeys to be compared to such creatures?

      • by gstoddart (321705)

        Do you have any idea how much it depresses monkeys to be compared to such creatures?

        I know, right? They get so depressed it's all they can do to fling poo!

        Who wants a half-hearted poo-flinging monkey?

  • I've seen research experiments where they did more than simple math but could play simple games against human opponents and win more often than not (of course they could practice and the humans didn't get any). I've also seen them do simple sign language (arguably mimicking but they could clearly sign things they wanted). They also create and use tools.

    So we are surprised they can seemingly do simple math? Really?

    Now I don't figure they will be taking college algebra anytime soon, but I really am not all

  • Let me know when one of them provides a novel proof that the square root of two is irrational.

    • Arithmetic != Math

      No, but Aritthmatic \in Maths.

      When one makes claims about whether one can do maths or not, one is not referring to being able to do everything in the entirety of mathematics. One is making claims about a rather small subset. Arithmetic is a small subset of maths. If monkeys can do basic arithmetic, then it's fair to say they can do basic maths.

      novel proof that the square root of two is irrational.

      That's something almost no one in the entire world can do. So, if that's your definition of "d

  • First I hear they can write Shakespeare and now math? They're more teachable than the average high school student
  • One prevailing theory on number representation—dubbed logarithmic encoding—had proposed that the brain always underestimates the value of larger numbers in a systematic and unchangeable way

    But, it turned out, they did not underestimate any number systematically. They did it only when it was the smaller argument to the add() function. So, the take away is, meh, they can add single digit numbers, but can't do logarithms. Right?

    • The conclusion is that whoever wrote that has little to no idea what a logarithm is.

      • by ceoyoyo (59147)

        That's what we smartass reviewers call a conclusion unsupported by the evidence.

    • by gstoddart (321705)

      So, the take away is, meh, they can add single digit numbers, but can't do logarithms.

      In fairness to the monkeys, I'm not sure I could anymore either. ;-)

  • Even I can do basic math, and I'm a fairly stupid monkey.

  • "It looks like a standardized test question: Is the sum of two numbers on the left or the single number on the right larger?

    It does not look like standardized test question at all. The typical standardized test question would be, "Represent these two number in the number line. Use the $latest_fad to find the total of the two numbers. Explain how you would use the number line to select to whether to be chased by hyenas or cheetahs. Or Draw a picture of a flower".

    The child that writes, "I talked to my brain about the number line and the brain said the test is dumb. So I am off playing super mario cart" makes it to the Colbert S

  • by pubwvj (1045960) on Monday April 21, 2014 @07:01PM (#46810549)

    We have livestock working dogs. They do guarding and herding as well as other jobs on our farm. They do math. They can differentiate less, more, count, know numbers (we use numbers with them) and do simple addition.

    Yes, these are not your ordinary pet dog - they're bred for intelligence and work at their jobs from a very young age so this may not be representative of all dogs. However, if our dogs can do math I'm not at all surprised monkeys can and I expect apes including chimpanzees and dolphins can probably do math too. These are social, cooperative animals and most of them are hunters which tends to develop brain hardware and skills.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Note there is a layer removed; the experiment used a 25-number range of symbols, so there's no counting involved, and summation has to be done on two abstract representations while their translations are held in mind. TFA suggests they may not be summing, but considering the two-symbol labels to be "modified bigSymbol", then TFA delves into neuro subjects above me.

      This isn't to say dogs/other higher mammals are incapable of the same degree of forethought/translation. -AC.Falos

  • I bet those bastards have known all along exactly how many typewriters they need to write Hamlet.

  • Show your dog three biscuits. Give him two. See if he goes and lays down or if he calculates the number of biscuits in your hand to be larger than zero.

    • by sl149q (1537343)

      Our "doorbell" is actually three rings on the telephone. Normal calls (one ring) and intercom calls (two rings) get ignored by the dogs.

      Three rings and they start to bark to let us know that someone is at the front door.

      • Our "doorbell" is actually three rings on the telephone. Normal calls (one ring) and intercom calls (two rings) get ignored by the dogs.

        Three rings and they start to bark to let us know that someone is at the front door.

        That's more interesting than you would guess; your dogs know Morse. Dah = [t]elephone, dah dah = "[M]r. Watson—Come here—I want to see you", dah dah dah = [o]vert burglary attempt.

        On a more serious note, I would guess that your dogs perceive the three ring modes as three different sounds, they're not actually counting rings. Dogs are good at responding to learned sounds. Sorry for the earlier snarkiness :)

  • I know many who can even code

  • by abies (607076) on Tuesday April 22, 2014 @10:00AM (#46814541)

    I used to be in math-heavy secondary school, with non-trivial math curriculum. On one of our religion lessons, priest when presented with the question "Do dogs have souls" answered clear "No". By my friend was pressing - "But when you look into dog's eyes, you can see a thinking, sensitive being there, doesn't that suggest it has something like a soul", priest desperately looking for "shut up" answer, replied "No - see, if you give the dog your math exercises, it will not manage it, so it doesn't have a mind and soul". To that, reply was short "Neither will you..."

    So, according to my religion teacher, we can rename the headline to "Experiment suggests monkeys might have souls" ;)

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