Jennifer Vonk

ScienceShot: These Bears Count

If there's anything more impressive than a bear's size, it's its intelligence. Bears can learn to ride bicycles, use tools, and as new research shows, "count." Scientists trained three American black bears (Ursus Americanus) to discriminate between groups of dots on a touchscreen computer: Two bears learned to pick the group with fewer dots, while the third learned to choose the group with more dots. In some trials, the group with fewer dots took up more space; in others, the dots moved. All three bears could use the number of dots to guide their choices, but the bear trained to pick groups with more dots performed better on its tests and could also discriminate with moving dots, researchers report online this month in the journal Animal Behaviour. Overall, the bears' performance matched those of monkeys in previous studies, suggesting that animals can evolve impressive cognitive abilities without living in large social groups.

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