Study Finds That Monkeys Can Do Math

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File photo of a macaque monkey. (credit: YOSHIKAZU TSUNO/AFP/Getty Images)

File photo of a macaque monkey. (credit: YOSHIKAZU TSUNO/AFP/Getty Images)

BOSTON (CBS Connecticut) – According to a new study, monkeys can do math.

Neurobiologist Margaret Livingstone of Harvard Medical School and her colleagues taught three rhesus macaques numbers zero through nine and letters with values zero through 25.

When given a choice between two symbols the monkeys generally chose the larger number. They were then given more drops of water, juice, or soda as a reward.

Researchers then wanted to know if monkeys could add numbers. The monkeys then were given a choice between a sum and a symbol. Science Mag reports that within four months the monkeys learned how it worked and were able to add the two symbols and compare that number to a single symbol.

Researchers wanted to make sure the monkeys were not just memorizing combinations so they then presented a new set of symbols. The monkeys were again able to add the value of these new set of numbers.

Researchers analyzed over hundreds of tests. The monkeys did not score 100 percent. They realized that the monkeys had trouble understanding the symbols when the numbers were close in value.

“What they’re doing is paying more attention to the big number than the little one,” Livingstone explained to the magazine.

The team said that further research is needed to determine how monkeys estimate the value of numbers.

The findings were reported online in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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