Monkey Math
文章来源: 文章作者: 发布时间:2008-01-23 02:29 字体: [ ]  进入论坛

Jan. 9, 2008

You add like a monkey. No, really. Recent experiments with rhesus macaques suggest that monkeys do high-speed addition in much the same way as people do.

Duke University researchers Elizabeth Brannon and Jessica Cantlon tested college students' ability to add numbers as quickly as possible without counting. The researchers compared the students' performance with that of rhesus macaques taking the same test. Both the monkeys and the students typically answered in about a second. And their test scores weren't all that different.



A rhesus macaque can perform rough sums on a computer test almost as well as a college student can.

A rhesus macaque can perform rough sums on a computer test almost as well as a college student can.

E. Maclean, Duke Univ.


The scientists say that their findings1 support the idea that some forms of mathematical2 thinking use an ancient skill, one that people share with their nonhuman ancestors.

"These data are very good for telling us where our sophisticated3 human minds came from," says Cantlon.

The research is an "important milestone," says animal-math researcher Charles Gallistel of Rutgers University in Piscataway, N.J., because it sheds4 light on how the ability to do math developed.

Monkeys aren't the only nonhuman animals with math skills. Previous experiments have shown that rats, pigeons5, and other creatures also have some kinds of abilities to do rough calculations6, says Gallistel. In fact, his research suggests that pigeons can even do a form of subtraction7

Brannon says she wanted to come up with a math test that would work for both adult humans and monkeys. Previous experiments were good at testing monkeys, but they didn't work as well for people.

In one such experiment, for example, Harvard University researchers put some lemons behind a screen as a monkey watched. Then, as the monkey continued to observe, they put a second group of lemons behind the screen. When the researchers lifted the screen, monkeys saw either the correct sum of the two groups of lemons or an incorrect sum. (To reveal8 incorrect sums, the researchers added lemons when the monkeys weren't looking.)

When the sum was incorrect, the monkeys seemed surprised: They stared longer at the lemons, suggesting they were expecting a different answer. An experiment such as this is a good way to test toddlers' math skills, but not the most effective way to measure such skills in adults.

So Brannon and Cantlon developed a computer-based addition test, which both people and monkeys (after some training) could do. First, one set of dots flashed on a computer screen for a half-second. A second set of dots appeared after a short delay. Finally the screen showed two boxed sets of dots, one representing the correct sum of the previous sets of dots and the other displaying an incorrect sum.

To respond to the test, subjects, which included 2 female9 rhesus macaque monkeys and 14 college students, had to tap a box on the screen. The researchers recorded how often the monkeys and students tapped the box with the correct sum. The students were told to tap as quickly as possible, so that they wouldn't have the advantage of counting out an answer. (Students were also told not to count the dots.)

In the end, the students beat the monkeys–but not by much. The humans were right about 94 percent of the time; the macaques averaged 76 percent. Both the monkeys and the students made more mistakes when the two sets of answers differed by only a few dots.

The study only measured the ability to approximate10 sums, and people are still better than animals at complicated11 math problems. In other words, it probably wouldn't be a good idea to hire a monkey as a math tutor12!—Agnieszka Biskup



1 findings 4tYzV9     
n.发现物( finding的名词复数 );调查(或研究)的结果;(陪审团的)裁决
  • It behoves us to study these findings carefully. 我们理应认真研究这些发现。
  • Their findings have been widely disseminated . 他们的研究成果已经广为传播。
2 mathematical KBAxJ     
  • The solution can be expressed by a mathematical equation.答案可用一个数学方程式来表示。
  • Einstein was a mathematical genius.爱因斯坦是数学天才。
3 sophisticated vimzWz     
  • She has become very sophisticated since she went to live in London.移居伦敦后她变得世故多了。
  • This is a very sophisticated machine.这是一台非常精密的机器。
4 sheds c4373e63682798b24b049a11652317ae     
n.棚,库( shed的名词复数 )v.流出( shed的第三人称单数 );流下;蜕皮;树叶脱落
  • The firemen pulled down some nearby sheds to stop the fire spreading. 消防队员们把附近的一些棚子拉倒,不让火势蔓延。 来自《简明英汉词典》
  • The present sheds a backward light on the world's previous processes. 现在给我们以启迪,使我们了解过去世界的种种进程。 来自哲学部分
5 pigeons pigeons     
n. 鸽子 名词pigeon的复数形式
  • the sound of pigeons cooing 鸽子咕咕的叫声
  • The boy frightened away the pigeons from the roof. 那男孩把屋顶上的鸽子吓飞了。
6 calculations 9a7cbfb33501452ad191bb1f0c3e6209     
n.计算( calculation的名词复数 );盘算;自私的打算;推断
  • We can exclude the possibility of total loss from our calculations. 我们可以在预测中把彻底失败的可能性排除在外。 来自《简明英汉词典》
  • He scored out both calculations and did them again. 他把两个计算结果都划掉,又把它们计算了一遍。 来自《简明英汉词典》
7 subtraction RsJwl     
  • We do addition and subtraction in arithmetic.在算术里,我们作加减运算。
  • They made a subtraction of 50 dollars from my salary.他们从我的薪水里扣除了五十美元。
8 reveal iWuxO     
  • The journalist did not want to reveal the identity of his informant.那个新闻工作者不想透露消息提供人的身份。
  • Differences will help to reveal the functions of the genes.它们间的差异将会帮助我们揭开基因多种功能。
9 female 3kSxf     
  • We only employ female workers.我们只雇用女工。
  • The animal in the picture was a female elephant.照片上的动物是头母象。
10 approximate DvEzp     
  • The builder gave an approximate cost for fixing the roof.房屋修建商给修理房顶粗略地估计了一个价钱。
  • The approximate date of his departure is next month.他大约在下个月动身。
11 complicated 9vjzzD     
  • The poem is so complicated that I cannot make out its meaning.这首诗太复杂,我理解不了它的意思。
  • This is the most complicated case I have ever handled.这是我所处理过的最为复杂的案子。
12 tutor Bldwv     
  • I think you should get her a tutor.我认为你应该替她请个家教。
  • What do you think of your tutor?你觉得你的家庭教师怎么样?
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