Are primates' brains wired for math?

Like a lot of humans, monkeys might not be able to do calculus. But a new study shows that they can learn and rapidly apply abstract mathematical principles.

Previous work has shown that monkeys and birds can count, but flexible applications of higher mathematic rules, the study authors asserted, "require the highest degree of internal structuring"—one thought largely to be the domain of only humans.

So researchers based at the Institute of Neurobiology at the University of Tubingen in Germany set out to see whether rhesus monkeys could learn and flexibly apply the greater-than and less-than rule. They tested the monkeys with groups of both ordered and random dots, many of which were novel combinations to ensure that the subjects couldn't have simply memorized them. The monkeys were cued into applying either the greater-than or less-than rule by the amount of time that elapsed between being shown the first and second group of dots.

"The monkeys immediately generalized the greater than and less than rules to numerosities that had not been presented previously," the two researchers, Sylvia Bongard and Andreas Nieder, wrote.

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## Sunday, January 24, 2010

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