December 18, 2007

Basic Math: Monkeys vs. College Students

Posted in Animals, Anthropology, Biology, Evolution, Nature, Science at 10:33 am by deadlikeme

donkey.jpgTwo macaque monkeys were pitted against 14 college students from Duke University in a Math on the fly test.

Elizabeth Brannon and Jessica Cantlon just published their results in the journal PLoS Biology, that show that the two female monkeys Boxer and Feinstein aren’t too far behind college students when it comes to mental math.

The task was to mentally add two sets of dots that were flashed for only half a second (500 ms) on a computer screen. The monkeys and the college students were then asked to pick the correct answer from two choices on a different screen.

addition.jpg

Both, monkeys and students typically answered within 1 second. Watch a short video of the test here (Quicktime movie).

Even though the students did score better (95% vs. 75%) one can’t deny that the monkeys performance are significantly better than chance.

We humans start learning math in kindergarden, so it’s not surprising that we are better than monkeys, who where never taught math in school.

Language is very important in the evolution of math in humans. It not only allows us to do something as basic as counting, but also all the more advanced calculations necessary for today’s science and technology. Without language our mathematical skills would be similar to those of the monkeys.

PLos Biology Article

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