Date of Thesis

Spring 2012


Numerous studies have shown that animals have a sense of quantity and can distinguish between relative amounts. The concepts of relative numerousness, estimation, and subitizing are well established in species as diverse as chimpanzees and salamanders. Mobile animals have practical use for an understanding of number in common situations such as predation, mating, and competition. However, the ability to identify discrete quantities has only been firmly established in humans. The purpose of this study was to test for such “absolute numerousness” judgments in three lion-tailed macaques (Macaca silenus), a non-human primate.

The three macaques tested had previously been trained on a computerized matchto- sample (MTS) task using geometric shapes. In this study, they were introduced to a MTS task containing a numerical cue, which required the monkeys to match stimuli containing either one or two items for rewards. If monkeys were successful at the initial matching task, they were tested with stimuli in which the position of the items and then the surface area of the items was controlled. If the monkeys could match successfully without using these non-numerical cues, they would demonstrate the capability to make absolute numerousness judgments.

None of the monkeys matched successfully using the numerical cue, so no evidence of absolute numerosity was found. Each macaque progressed through the experiment in an individualized manner, attempting a variety of strategies to obtain rewards. These included side preferences and an alternating-side strategy that were unrelated to the numerical cues in the stimuli. When it became clear that the monkeys were not matching based on a stimulus-based cue, they were tested again on matching geometric shapes. All three macaques stopped using their alternate strategies and were able to match shapes successfully, demonstrating that they were still capable of completing the matching task. The data suggest that the monkeys could not transfer this ability to the numerical stimuli. This indicates that the macaques lack a sense of exact quantity, or that they could not recognize the numerical cues in the stimuli as being relevant to the task.


Numerosity, Macaques, Match-To-Sample

Access Type

Honors Thesis (Bucknell Access Only)


Animal Behavior

First Advisor

Peter Judge