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Cuty Boy the Counting Persian
At last an explanation!
Cuty Boy is a much publicised cream Persian from Bar Dubai whose alleged
passion and talent for arithmetic was discovered when he was a kitten. It is
claimed that he can add, divide, multiply, subtract, find square roots and
solve algebra problems. His owner, Hema Mohan Chandra, claims the cat can
indicate "yes", "no", "left" and "right" and that he replied "yes" when
asked if he understood numbers. She then taught him to count up to 20. Cuty
Boy gives his answers by nose-bumping her face the correct number of times.
Numbers too large for nose-bumping are indicated using a set of answer
cards. The cat selects the correct answer by twitching his tail and looking
at the card. To convince sceptics of Cuty Boy's abilities, the owners had
him tested by maths teacher Sahadevan Panicker. Cuty Boy has to be pushed by
his family to perform in public.
What is really happening is a phenomenon is called involuntary/unconscious
cuing. Some cats are adept at reading human body language even if the humans
are not aware they are transmitting body language. Studies of "counting
horses" (who tapped a hoof the correct number of times in response to an
arithmetic puzzle) uncovered the truth. The animals picked up on almost
imperceptible twitches from the handler/trainer. The handler was mentally
urging the animal to tap again and get the right answer. This mental urging
leaked into a facial or body twitch and at each "signal", the horse tapped a
hoof. In some cases, the handler was unaware that he was leaking signals to
the horse (this may also be true of Cuty Boy's owner). The studies found
that when the body language was obscured, or when a the animal worked with
an unfamiliar handler, the animal lost its ability to count. When the
handler didn't know the answer (or was deliberately given an incorrect
answer by the person setting a complex problem), the counting animal also
got the answer wrong. Set pieces such as selecting the correct card are
learnt in much the same way - picking up on tiny signals, including "left"
Cuty Boy apparently understands phrases in 8 languages, including Gujarati,
Persian, Malayalam (Hema's mother tongue), English, Arabic and French and
can identify objects when asked in those languages. This is not evidence of
great linguistic skills or of a psychic cat. While he's probably learnt
some words, Cuty Boy relies on his owner's involuntary cues regardless of
the spoken language.
Counting, linguistic and psychic animals do not perform well in controlled
conditions. Owners blame this on the animal being upset and refusing to
co-operate, but the truth is that the animal is not being given any cues.
Cuty Boy's unwillingness to perform in public is probably linked to
difficulty in concentrating on the owner's signals when there are so many
distractions for both cat and owner. In a public environment, there is
greater tension and this makes the owner's body language unclear. So in
spite of all the publicity and hype, Cuty Boy is not a mathematical prodigy.
He is simply a performing animal with a flair for reading body language and
doing a counting trick that was debunked over a century ago. He is the 21st
Century version of "Clever Hans".
Clever Hans (Kluge Hans) was William von Osten's horse, Clever Hans (Kluge
Hans), in Berlin. Hans answered tricky maths questions (including fractions)
by tapping out the answer with his hoof. He was first publicly exhibited in
1891 and several scientists became convinced that there was no signalling or
trickery. They were impressed that Hans performed almost as well without von
Osten as with him. In 1904, psychologist Oskar Pfungst studied Hans and
noticed that if the nobody present knew the correct answer, neither did
Hans. When the horse wore blinkers to obscure his view or when the
questioner was further away, Hans got the answer wrong. He deduced that Hans
was getting a signal from the person asking the question. Pfungst noticed
that when a person asked a question, they tilted their head slightly without
even realising it. This signalled Hans to begin tapping. When Hans got to
the right answer, the excited questioner lifted their head, raised an
eyebrow or smiled ... and Hans stopped counting! Hans was clever because he
could read human body language. Another example was Lady Wonder the
"telepathic horse" tested by JB Rhine. In 1927, Lady Wonder was seen to
knock over alphabet blocks in response to questions. Two years later, Lady
Wonder failed testing and Rhine concluded that the horse had lost its
psychic abilities. Like Clever Hans, Lady Wonder had previously been picking
up on subtle human body language. Cuty Boy is simply a feline equivalent of
Have you actually read the studies about Lady Horse?
I tend to agree with you, but when I was deer hunting and fell into a ravine breaking my bones my dog saved my life. We were far away from anyone and I told Spirit to get help. His ears went up and off he went. A day in a half later he returned with two hunters. I am alive, because the dog new a trick I never taught it.
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