Numerosity representations in crows obey the Weber-Fechner law

Proc Biol Sci. 2016 Mar 30;283(1827):20160083. doi: 10.1098/rspb.2016.0083.


The ability to estimate number is widespread throughout the animal kingdom. Based on the relative close phylogenetic relationship (and thus equivalent brain structures), non-verbal numerical representations in human and non-human primates show almost identical behavioural signatures that obey the Weber-Fechner law. However, whether numerosity discriminations of vertebrates with a very different endbrain organization show the same behavioural signatures remains unknown. Therefore, we tested the numerical discrimination performance of two carrion crows (Corvus corone) to a broad range of numerosities from 1 to 30 in a delayed match-to-sample task similar to the one used previously with primates. The crows' discrimination was based on an analogue number system and showed the Weber-fraction signature (i.e. the 'just noticeable difference' between numerosity pairs increased in proportion to the numerical magnitudes). The detailed analysis of the performance indicates that numerosity representations in crows are scaled on a logarithmically compressed 'number line'. Because the same psychophysical characteristics are found in primates, these findings suggest fundamentally similar number representations between primates and birds. This study helps to resolve a classical debate in psychophysics: the mental number line seems to be logarithmic rather than linear, and not just in primates, but across vertebrates.

Keywords: Corvus corone; corvid; logarithmic scaling; magnitude; number.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cognition*
  • Crows / physiology*
  • Differential Threshold
  • Female
  • Male
  • Psychophysics
  • Telencephalon / physiology*

Associated data

  • Dryad/10.5061/dryad.RB921