More Human vs. Monkey: Monkeys add up like we do
Monkeys add up like we do
Rhesus monkeys master basic addition in a similar way to humans.
A mathematical competition between two rhesus macaques and fourteen undergraduates has revealed a new similarity between monkeys and college students: their ability to handle basic addition.
In the battle of man versus macaque, students bested the monkeys for overall accuracy at 94% to 76%. But response times during a computerized test of addition were approximately the same in the two groups. Both groups were more likely to stumble as the magnitude of the sums increased.
Such similarities, researchers say, suggest an evolutionary continuity between basic mathematical skills in humans and other primates. The results are published this week in PLoS Biology 1.
The fact that monkeys can handle basic arithmetic is not in itself new, as it had been suggested by previous work. If monkeys watch as lemons are placed behind a screen, for example, they will stare longer at the fruit if the screen is lifted to reveal an incorrect sum of lemons2. Their apparent surprise when the number of lemons revealed isn't what was expected suggests the presence of rudimentary mathematical ability, says Jessica Cantlon of Duke University in Durham, North Carolina.
"It's not math in the sense of a symbolic procedure, the way that humans typically think of math," says Cantlon. Monkeys won't be doing full-blown algebra anytime soon. "It's a more primitive form."
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