Do Humans (Homo sapiens) and Fish (Pterophyllum scalare) Make Similar Numerosity Judgments?

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Abstract

Numerous studies have shown that many animal species can be trained to discriminate between stimuli differing in numerosity. However, in the absence of generalization tests with untrained numerosities, what decision criterion was used by subjects remains unclear: the subjects may succeed by selecting a specific number of items (a criterion over absolute numerosities), or by applying a more general relative numerosity rule, for example, selecting the larger/smaller quantity of items. The latter case may require more powerful representations, supporting judgments of order (“more/less”) beyond simple “same/different” judgments, but a relative numerosity rule may also be more adaptive. In previous research, we showed that guppies (Poecilia reticulata) spontaneously prefer relative numerosity rules. To date it is unclear whether this preference is shared by other fish and, more broadly, other species. Here we compared the performance of angelfish (Pterophyllum scalare) with that of human adults (Homo sapiens) in a task in which subjects were initially trained to select arrays containing 10 dots (either in 5 vs. 10 or 10 vs. 20 comparisons). Subsequently they were tested with the previously trained numerosity and a novel numerosity (respectively, 20 or 5). In the absence of explicit instructions, both species spontaneously favored a relative rule, selecting the novel numerosity. These similarities demonstrate that, beyond shared representations for numerical quantities, vertebrate species may also share a system for taking decisions about quantities.

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