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Use of numbers by a chimpanzee


Recent studies have examined linguistic abilities in apes1–6. However, although human mathematical abilities seem to be derived from the same foundation as those in language, we have little evidence for mathematical abilities in apes (but for exceptions see refs 7–10). In the present study, a 5-yr-old female chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes), ‘Ai’, was trained to use Arabic numerals to name the number of items in a display. Ai mastered numerical naming from one to six and was able to name the number, colour and object of 300 types of samples. Although no particular sequence of describing samples was required, the chimpanzee favoured two sequences (colour/object/number and object/colour/number). The present study demonstrates that the chimpanzee was able to describe the three attributes of the sample items and spontaneously organized the ‘word order’.

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Matsuzawa, T. Use of numbers by a chimpanzee. Nature 315, 57–59 (1985).

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