Animal Cognition

, Volume 10, Issue 4, pp 429–437 | Cite as

When quantity trumps number: discrimination experiments in cotton-top tamarins (Saguinus oedipus) and common marmosets (Callithrix jacchus)

  • Jeffrey R. Stevens
  • Justin N. Wood
  • Marc D. Hauser
Original Paper


The capacity for non-linguistic, numerical discrimination has been well characterized in non-human animals, with recent studies providing careful controls for non-numerical confounds such as continuous extent, density, and quantity. More poorly understood are the conditions under which animals use numerical versus non-numerical quantification, and the nature of the relation between these two systems. Here we test whether cotton-top tamarins and common marmosets can discriminate between two quantities on the basis of the amount of food rather than on number. In three experiments, we show that when choosing between arrays containing different numbers and sizes of food objects, both species based their decisions on the amount of food with only minor influences of numerical information. Further, we find that subjects successfully discriminated between two quantities differing by a 2:3 or greater ratio, which is consistent with the ratio limits found for numerical discrimination with this species. These studies demonstrate that non-human primates possess mechanisms that enable quantification of total amount, in addition to the numerical representations demonstrated in previous studies, with both types of quantification subject to similar processing limits.


Analog magnitude Callitrichids Foraging Non-linguistic quantification Numerical discrimination 



We would like to thank NIH (NRSA) for funding J.R.S., Harvard University and NIH (NRSA) for funding J.N.W., and NSF (ROLE) for funding M.D.H. We would also like to thank David Glynn, Ian Goh, Sarah Heilbronner, Jeff Lau, Cori McLean, Alex Rosati, and Amy Tao for assistance in conducting this experiment. We are grateful to three anonymous referees for helpful comments on the manuscript. This experiment was approved by the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee at Harvard University (Animal Subjects Codes 92–16 and 22–07) and conforms to the APA Guidelines for Ethical Conduct in the Care and Use of Animals.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jeffrey R. Stevens
    • 1
    • 4
  • Justin N. Wood
    • 1
  • Marc D. Hauser
    • 1
    • 2
    • 3
  1. 1.Cognitive Evolution Laboratory, Department of PsychologyHarvard UniversityCambridgeUSA
  2. 2.Department of Organismic & Evolutionary BiologyHarvard UniversityCambridgeUSA
  3. 3.Department of Biological AnthropologyHarvard UniversityCambridgeUSA
  4. 4.Center for Adaptive Behavior and CognitionMax Planck Institute for Human DevelopmentBerlinGermany

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