, Volume 31, Issue 2, pp 133-142

A bottlenose dolphin discriminates visual stimuli differing in numerosity


A bottlenose dolphin was trained to discriminate two simultaneously presented stimuli differing in numerosity (defined by the number of constituent elements). After responding correctly to stimuli consisting of three-dimensional objects, the dolphin transferred to two-dimensional stimuli. Initially, a variety of stimulus parameters covaried with the numerosity feature. By systematically controlling for these stimulus parameters, it was demonstrated that some of these attributes, such as element configuration and overall brightness, affected the animal’s discrimination performance. However, after all the confounding parameters were under control, the dolphin was able to discriminate the stimuli exclusively on the basis of the numerosity feature. The animal then achieved a successful transfer to novel numerosities, both intervening numerosities and numerosities outside the former range. These findings provide substantial evidence that the dolphin could base his behavior on the numerosity of a set independently of its other attributes and that he represented ordinal relations among numerosities.

The authors are very grateful to the staff of the dolphinarium at the Nürnberg Zoo for their continuous help during experimental sessions and to the director of the Nürnberg Zoo, Peter Mühling, for his approval of the conduct of the study. Our thanks also go to Martin Böye for assistance in running Experiment 2 and to Jörg Pekarsky for designing Figures 1 and 3.
—Accepted by the previous editorial team of Ralph R. Miller