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Newborn Chicks Added to List of Animals That Know Math

April 06, 2009 11:00 AM
by Kate Davey
According to a recent study, baby chicks are able to do basic calculations just days after being born; they are not the only animals with innate math skills.

Baby Chicks Understand Mathematical Concepts

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A recent study published in Proceedings B, a research journal of the Royal Society, found that chicks three to four days old were able to perform some basic math skills.

In the study, chicks watched behind a clear glass screen as small plastic yellow balls were moved behind two screens: two behind one screen and three behind the other. When the chicks were released into the same area as the balls, they walked around the screens and went to the side that had more balls.

Even when the researchers hid the balls behind screens, and only allowed the chicks to see which balls were moved, the chicks “still chose correctly—adding up the numbers based on groups of objects they couldn't see at that moment,” Professor Lucia Regolin, one of the study’s authors, told the BBC.
Jessica Cantlon of Duke University studies numerical skills in primates, and told Science News that the chick study indicates “that animals might be evolutionarily endowed with an ability to track and manipulate numbers, rather than picking up their numerical abilities gradually over development.”

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Related Topic: Monkeys and dolphins can do math, too

In December 2007, Cantlon and another Duke University researcher demonstrated via a series of tests that monkeys could perform mental addition. Monkeys were correct 76 percent of the time; when the same tests were given to college students, they were right 94 percent of the time. Average response times for both groups were the same: about one second. In addition, both species made similar mistakes.

In 2005, researchers from the Dolphin Research Center in Grassy Key, Fla., gave two dolphins some brief training sessions, and discovered that they could correctly choose which of two boards contained the fewer number of dots at least 82 percent of the time.

The researchers told the American Psychological Association journal Monitor on Psychology that the dolphins must have learned basic math, “Because every trial presented a new combination of dot sizes and positions, the only way to succeed was to recognize the numerosity of the displays.”
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