Simultaneous visual discrimination in Asian elephants

Publication Type:
Journal Article
Year of Publication:
Moti Nissani, Donna Hoefler-Nissani, U Tin Lay, U Wan Htun
Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior
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Two experiments explored the behavior of 20 Asian elephants (Elephas aximus) in simultaneous visual discrimination tasks. In Experiment 1, 7 Burmese logging elephants acquired a white+/black- discrimination, reaching criterion in a mean of 2.6 sessions and 117 discrete trials, whereas 4 elephants acquired a black+/white- discrimination in 5.3 sessions and 293 trials. One elephant failed to reach criterion in the white+/black- task in 9 sessions and 549 trials, and 2 elephants failed to reach criterion in the black+/white- task in 9 sessions and 452 trials. In Experiment 2, 3 elephants learned a large/small transposition problem, reaching criterion within a mean of 1.7 sessions and 58 trials. Four elephants failed to reach criterion in 4.8 sessions and 193 trials. Data from both the black/white and large/small discriminations showed a surprising age effect, suggesting that elephants beyond the age of 20 to 30 years either may be unable to acquire these visual discriminations or may require an inordinate number of trials to do so. Overall, our results cannot be readily reconciled with the widespread view that elephants possess exceptional intelligence.


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