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Monkeys understand numbers across senses

o design an experiment that used socially relevant stimuli.

"Our approach really derives from thinking about why a monkey would need to represent numbers across sensory modalities," she said. "In the wild, a monkey might hear different monkeys vocalizing and not see them, yet need to know how many animals there are. For example, in a territorial dispute, you could imagine that an animal would want to know, 'Well, how many animals are really about to encroach on our territory?'"

Also, said Brannon, the researchers chose to test each monkey only once and not reward them in any way. This experimental design meant that the monkeys could not learn anything within the experiment and instead were demonstrating their spontaneous numerical abilities. Other aspects of their experimental design avoided drawbacks in previous experiments whereby animals or babies might have used relative intensity or sound duration, rather than the numerical commonalities extending across sensory modalities.

"The results we obtained provide evidence that monkeys spontaneously detect a correspondence in number between two different sensory modalities, and this tells us that language is not necessary to represent number abstractly," she said. "When we humans apply the word 'three' to sounds or visual images, we're using language to link these different sets from different modalities. And the question has been whether an animal without that kind of language based representation can still notice or represent these commonalities."

According to Jordan, their research team is planning future studies that will use the same experimental design to explore whether human infants have the same cross-modal numerical ability. "The experiment with monkeys has given insight into the evolutionary origins of cross-modal number representations," Jordan said. "And studies with infants will tell us whether this ability applies to infants before they have acquired language."


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Source:Duke University


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