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How and Why Animals Crunch Numbers

Andreas Nieder, Director of the Institute of Neurobiology at the University of Tübingen, Germany

Mar 31, 2021
11:00 am to 12:00 pm | Zoom

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Our unprecedented counting and arithmetic abilities are deeply rooted in our heritage as primates and vertebrates. Findings in developmental psychology, anthropology, and animal cognition indicate that a basic understanding of number rests on an evolutionarily and ontogenetically primeval neural system for non-symbolic number representations. To decipher the neuronal foundations of number representations from a comparative and evolutionary point of view, we studied single-cell activity in the association cortices of behaving human patients, monkeys and crows. Our data show an impressive correspondence of behavioral and neuronal mechanisms in these diverse species. This suggests that neuronal coding mechanisms for quantity categories have evolved independently based on convergent evolution, and irrespective of the precise origin and anatomical structures of vertebrate brains.

Speaker Bio

Prof. Andreas Nieder is the director of the Institute of Neurobiology at the University of Tübingen, Germany. He studied Biology/Zoology at the Technical University in Munich and received his PhD in Neurobiology from RWTH Aachen University. Afterwards, he was a postdoc at the Picower Center for Learning and Memory at MIT, and an independent junior research group leader at the Hertie Institute for Clinical Brain Research, University of Tübingen. His research takes an evolutionary-comparative approach to understand the brains and behaviors of crows, macaques, and humans, with a focus on number representations, categories and concepts, learning and memory, consciousness, and vocalization. In addition to numerous articles, Prof. Nieder authored the book “A Brain for Numbers: The Biology of the Number Instinct”, and his work has been featured in Scientific American, The Guardian, Science Daily, and other media outlets.

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