OPEN Frontiers in psychology | 26 Apr 2013
M Pahl, A Si and S Zhang
The ability to perceive the number of objects has been known to exist in vertebrates for a few decades, but recent behavioral investigations have demonstrated that several invertebrate species can also be placed on the continuum of numerical abilities shared with birds, mammals, and reptiles. In this review article, we present the main experimental studies that have examined the ability of insects to use numerical information. These studies have made use of a wide range of methodologies, and for this reason it is striking that a common finding is the inability of the tested animals to discriminate numerical quantities greater than four. Furthermore, the finding that bees can not only transfer learnt numerical discrimination to novel objects, but also to novel numerosities, is strongly suggestive of a true, albeit limited, ability to count. Later in the review, we evaluate the available evidence to narrow down the possible mechanisms that the animals might be using to solve the number-based experimental tasks presented to them. We conclude by suggesting avenues of further research that take into account variables such as the animals' age and experience, as well as complementary cognitive systems such as attention and the time sense.
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