Michael J. Beran, Ph.D.
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September 1, 2021



Beran, M. J. (2008).  Capuchin monkeys (Cebus apella) succeed in a test of quantity conservation. Animal Cognition, 11, 109-116.

Nonhuman animals demonstrate a number of impressive quantitative skills such as counting sets of items, comparing sets on the basis of the number of items or amount of material, and even responding to simple arithmetic manipulations. In this experiment, capuchin monkeys were presented with a computerized task designed to assess conservation of discrete quantity. Monkeys first were trained to select from two horizontal arrays of stimuli the one with the larger number of items. On some trials, after a correct selection there was no feedback but instead an additional manipulation of one of those arrays. In some cases, this manipulation involved moving items closer together or farther apart to change the physical arrangement of the array but not the quantity of items in the array. In other cases, additional items were added to the initially smaller array so that it became quantitatively larger. Monkeys then made a second selection from the two arrays of items. Previous research had shown that rhesus monkeys (Macaca mulatta) succeeded with this task. However, there was no condition in that study in which items were added to the smaller array without increasing its quantity to a point where it became the new larger array. This new condition was added in the present experiment. Capuchin monkeys were sensitive to all of these manipulations, changing their selections when the manipulations changed which array contained the larger number of items but not when the manipulations changed the physical arrangement of items or increased the quantity in one array without also reversing which of the two arrays had more items. Therefore, capuchin monkeys responded on the basis of the quantity of items, and they were not distracted by non-quantitative manipulations of the arrays. The data indicate that capuchins are sensitive to simply arithmetic manipulations that involve addition of items to arrays and also that they can conserve quantity.

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