Michael J. Beran, Ph.D.
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Last updated: 
September 1, 2021

 

Beran, M. J., McIntyre, J. M., Garland, A., & Evans, T. A. (2013).  What counts for “counting”? Chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) respond appropriately to relevant and irrelevant information in a quantity judgment task.  Animal Behaviour, 85, 987-993.

Nonhuman animals quantify all manner of things, and the way in which this is done is fairly well understood. However, little research has been conducted to determine how they know what is or is not relevant in the instances in which they quantify stimuli. We assessed how four chimpanzees chose between two sets of food items when the items were distributed across separate spatial arrays. Each item was covered by a container, and then was revealed in sequence so that neither whole set was visible at one time. After all containers were revealed, some were revealed again. The chimpanzees should have ignored items that were seen a second time and instead enumerated each item only once. In another test, some of the items were transposed in location and then uncovered again. Here, the chimpanzees needed to recognize that the newly shown food items were ones they already had seen. Overall, the chimpanzees were successful in selecting the truly larger array of items despite these potential distracting representations of items. Discrimination performance also reflected analogue magnitude estimation because comparisons of sets that differed by larger amounts were easier than comparisons that differed by smaller amounts. Thus, chimpanzee quantity judgments for nonvisible sets of items are inexact, but they include an aspect of control for determining when items are uniquely presented versus represented.

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