Number-space mapping in the newborn chick resembles humans’ mental number line

See allHide authors and affiliations

Science  30 Jan 2015:
Vol. 347, Issue 6221, pp. 534-536
DOI: 10.1126/science.aaa1379

You are currently viewing the abstract.

View Full Text

Log in to view the full text

Log in through your institution

Log in through your institution

Even chicks may count from left to right

For the most part, humans represent numbers across a mental number line, with smaller numbers on the left and larger numbers on the right. Some have argued that this is due to culture rather than being innate. Rugani et al., however, show that 3-day-old chicks share this representation of numbers, consistently seeking lower numbers to the left of a target and larger numbers to the right (see the Perspective by Brugger). These results suggest that there may be an innate spatial representation of numerical values that we share with other animals.

Science, this issue p. 534; see also p. 477


Humans represent numbers along a mental number line (MNL), where smaller values are located on the left and larger on the right. The origin of the MNL and its connections with cultural experience are unclear: Pre-verbal infants and nonhuman species master a variety of numerical abilities, supporting the existence of evolutionary ancient precursor systems. In our experiments, 3-day-old domestic chicks, once familiarized with a target number (5), spontaneously associated a smaller number (2) with the left space and a larger number (8) with the right space. The same number (8), though, was associated with the left space when the target number was 20. Similarly to humans, chicks associate smaller numbers with the left space and larger numbers with the right space.

View Full Text

Stay Connected to Science