Monkeys are actually good at math: A skill used in the wild, a study finds

By Vamien McKalin, Tech Times | April 23, 6:41 AM

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Rhesus Monkey

Monkeys have a new trick up their sleeves; they can actually calculate using basic mathematics. With such skills, no wonder monkeys are not easy prey in the wild.
(Photo : Makitani)

Monkeys are smart; we've come to that conclusion a long time ago. However, did you know that monkeys are smart enough to do basic mathematics? Yes, they can, even our ancient primate ancestors were capable of the same feat.

Based on a new study, a team of researchers has managed to train three Rhesus monkeys to associate themselves with 26 distinct symbols consisting of numerals and selective letters. This is done by giving the monkeys up to 25 drops of water, juice, or soda as a reward. To get the reward, the monkeys were required to combine or add symbols.

Interestingly enough, the monkeys were able to add two symbols, along with comparing that number to a single symbol within a 4 month period. That's quite impressive and should prove without a doubt that monkeys are capable of doing extraordinary things that are impossible for other creatures to perform.

To make sure the monkeys were not simply memorizing the combinations, researchers placed in front of the creatures a new set of symbols, and to their amazement, the monkeys were able to add these symbols into a single value.

"What they're doing is paying more attention to the big number than the little one," said Neurobiologist Margaret Livingstone of Harvard Medical School.

It is possible monkeys use their ability to make basic calculations in the wild, to help prevent themselves from being eaten alive by predators. It might be one of the reasons why monkeys are not easy prey for Lions despite the obvious size and speed advantage.

As it stands, having a brain that is more advance is more important than sheer strength and brute force.

"Being able to estimate obviously has survival value; you want to be able to glance up and see how many lions are about to attack you," says psychologist David Burr of the University of Florence in Italy. "The remaining goal is developing a model to explain how that happens in the brain."

At the end of the day, we would prefer if the researchers cease from feeding the monkeys soda. These things are not good for humans, so it is unlikely it would be healthy for monkeys.

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