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Researchers study elephants' math abilities

Researchers study elephants' math abilities

PanARMENIAN.Net - Some captive elephants create paintings or even smash and consume giant pumpkins in Halloween kickoff events, but what about their mathematical abilities? Three Asian elephants named Artit (a 15-year-old male), Surya (an 18-year-old female), and Authai (a 14-year-old female) are the stars of a recent elephant math study published in the Journal of Ethology.

The trio of pachyderms live in Japan's Ueno Zoo in facilities approved by the Japanese Association of Zoos and Aquariums, Forbes says.

Authai was the breakout performer of the group in this study, which "provides the first experimental evidence that nonhuman animals have cognitive characteristics partially identical to human counting," the study's lead author Naoko Irie noted in a news release.

Artit was removed from the study when his accuracy for the final training stage of the experiment was 49.73%, which is "below chance level," while Surya was dismissed from the study because she wasn't cooperating with the experiment after two sessions of the final training stage.

The training stage

First, the team trained Authai how to use touch panel apparatus, according to the paper. The apparatus consisted of a liquid crystal display with touch panel, which was connected to a laptop. All of those components were mounted stabilized by a dolly. (All three elephants were involved in this training stage.)

The training sessions were held on an outdoor playground and were timed to occur right before the elephants' third meal of the day. These sessions were held outside of the view of other elephants and the training order was random for each day.

First, Authai was rewarded for touching the tip of her trunk to the screen. In the next step, she was rewarded if she touched a red start button within 30 seconds of it appearing on the screen.

The stakes were higher for the final training stage. With the zookeeper standing three meters away from Authai and facing in the opposite direction, the stage was set. Here, the elephant had to make some choices without taking cues from her keeper...

When the start button appeared on the screen, this was the keeper's cue. The touchscreen device was pushed towards Authai until it was two meters away from her. The trial began when she used her trunk to push the start button. Two images of fruits (bananas, watermelons and apples) appeared on the screen and the elephant was to choose one of them. If she chose the one with the larger number of items (either three or four things, depending on the trial), this triggered a neutral sound and image, followed by a fruit reward for Authai. If she chose the figure with the smaller number of items, the result was a three second beeping sound, five seconds of a blank screen and no treat for the elephant.

In each of the 132 training trials, the researchers varied the sizes of the fruit images, which screen side contained the image with the larger quantity of fruit and "the percentages of the total areas (of the screen) covered by the items," they note in the study. (One training session consisted of six training trials and four of these sessions were held each day. The touchscreen device was removed between sessions.)

The team's analysis revealed that Authai's accuracy was above the chance level for the two types of trials in the training stage (one with three objects versus zero and a second with four objects versus one, in which she was 72.2% accurate and 64.1% accurate, respectively). So, she was moved forward into the test trials.

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