Clever Hans the Counting Horse
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Clever Hans teaches us not to assign attributes to animals that they do not possess, an important anthropomorphic lesson about animal-human relations.
Clever Hans was a European horse famous for his ability to add, subtract, multiply and divide numbers and fractions. He could also read and spell. His story teaches us an important lesson concerning human-animal relations.
Hans' trainer, Wilhelm von Osten, introduced him to audiences far and wide and when he asked Hans to perform a mental calculation Hans stamped a hoof in reply - and inevitably gave the correct answer. Arithmetic was no problem. Dividing numbers like 56 by 7 was easy. Hans, the late 19th century counting equine, became an international celebrity as news of his cerebral feats spread from Europe to America. He astonished, puzzled and amused audiences, who applauded him as a remarkably intelligent horse.
Wilhelm von Osten with Clever Hans.
Eventually Hans' ability attracted the attention of scientific investigation. Psychologists made a thorough professional examination. After scrupulous observation they found that Hans was responding to near invisible cues from his trainer. Normally only Hans could detect the cues; everyone else, including his trainer, was completely unaware of what was going on.
For example, Hans started tapping a hoof when his trainer asked him to count the number of objects in a sack. When Hans reached the right number his trainer unconsciously made an almost imperceptible movement, such as bending forward or catching his breath. Hans was very perceptive to notice this as the signal to stop tapping his hoof, apparently at the right number.
Clever Hans astonishing his audience.
Reports of smart animals performing mental calculations invariably turn up from time to time. Clever Hans is a distinguished example of a clever animal because his performance was carefully analysed and the findings published and widely circulated. Clever Hans shows that animals can respond to, what are for us, subliminal cues, and that we should be careful not to assign attributes to animals they do not possess. We remember Hans for teaching us a lesson about anthropomorphism, a useful lesson for animal rightists.
See the entry Anthropomorphism.
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