Animals recognize numbers - but only humans do math

Mar 8, 2022 | Saskatoon

"Counting feels utterly effortless to adults, who are unlikely to even remember when or how they picked up this useful, apparently automatic skill. Yet when you think about it, counting is a remarkable invention..."

"But a sensitivity for numbers isn’t uniquely human. Tiny guppies and honeybees as well as hyenas and dogs have been found to perceive and act on numerical stimuli. So responding to numbers is an evolved trait we seem to share with some animals, as well as a skill we’re taught in some of our first lessons."

"From as young as ten months old, human infants are already getting to grips with numbers. But there’s a limit to their numerical skills: they can only detect number changes between one and three, as when one apple is removed from a group of three apples. This skill is shared by many animals with significantly smaller brains, such as fish and bees."

"What’s interesting here is that it takes young children some time to grasp the fact that the last word in the counting sequence doesn’t only describe the order of the object in the count list (the fifth object), but also the number of all objects counted so far (five objects). While this is obvious to the numerate adult, the so-called “cardinality principle” is a conceptually difficult and important step for children, and takes months to learn."

We see this last part all the time with students ages 5-7. It takes time and intention to link the order of the numbers to the amount of objects. 


Full article here:

Photo by Christos Gavriel via Unsplash