In the early 1900s, scientific attention to animal cognition was focused on the performance of one animal, Clever Hans the horse. His owner, a mathematics teacher, claimed that Hans could perform addition, subtraction, multiplication and work with fractions. Indeed, Hans could answer questions correctly even if his owner was not present, which led an investigative panel to conclude that this was not a case of fraud (NYTimes, 1904; Pfungst, 1911). Several months later a psychologist was able to determine that Hans could not do mathematics, but instead was sensitive to human cues of correct answers (Allen & Bekoff, 1999; Pfungst, 1911). This planted a seed of doubt in psychological explorations of the numerical abilities of non-human animals; however, these doubts have since been challenged again and again! It is clear that while non-human animals’ cognitive abilities are clearly different than those of humans, these differences, to quote Darwin, are “of degree and not of kind."
Numeracy is the broad range of numerical applications used by humans and other animals. At its most basic level, numeracy is expressed in the ability to discriminate between the size, amount or other aspects of quantity of different objects (Devlin, 2000). Quantity discrimination has been studied in animals from fish to birds to primates, and most animals show some level of it. Many studies of numeracy have been done on carnivores, with canines overly represented. It’s time to give the kitties some scientific attention. An amount that they can detect. ...continue reading