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One, two, three, four, or is there something more? Numerical discrimination in day-old domestic chicks

Abstract

Human adults master sophisticated, abstract numerical calculations that are mostly based on symbolic language and thus inimitably human. Humans may nonetheless share a subset of non-verbal numerical skills, available soon after birth and considered the evolutionary foundation of more complex numerical reasoning, with other animals. These skills are thought to be based on the two systems: the object file system which processes small values (<3) and the analogue magnitude system which processes large magnitudes (>4). Infants’ ability to discriminate 1 vs. 2, 1 vs. 3, 2 vs. 3, but not 1 vs. 4, seems to indicate that the two systems are independent, implying that the conception of a continuous number processing system is based on precursors that appear to be interrupted at or about the number four. The findings from the study being presented here indicating that chicks are able to make a series of discriminations regarding that borderline number (1 vs. 4, 1 vs. 5, 2 vs. 4) support the hypothesis that there is continuity in the number system which processes both small and large numerousness.

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Acknowledgments

This study was supported by a research grant from University of Padova to R.R. (‘Progetto Giovani’, Bando 2010, Università degli Studi di Padova, prot.: GRIC101142). GV was also funded by the Cassa di Risparmio of Trento e Rovereto.

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Correspondence to Rosa Rugani.

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Rugani, R., Cavazzana, A., Vallortigara, G. et al. One, two, three, four, or is there something more? Numerical discrimination in day-old domestic chicks. Anim Cogn 16, 557–564 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10071-012-0593-8

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10071-012-0593-8

Keywords

  • Number cognition
  • Object file system
  • Analogue magnitude system
  • Number sense
  • Arithmetic
  • Domestic chick
  • Human infant
  • Large numbers
  • Continuous variables