Symbol-value association and discrimination in the archerfish

Naomi Karoubi, Tali Leibovich, Ronen Segev

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


One of the most important aspects of mathematical cognition in humans is the ability to symbolically represent magnitudes and quantities. In the last 20 years it has been shown that not only humans but also other primates, birds and dolphins can use symbolic representation of quantities. However, it remains unclear to what extent this ability is spread across the animal kingdom. Here, by training archerfish to associate variable amounts of rewards with different geometric shapes, we show for the first time that lower vertebrates can also associate a value with a symbol and make a decision that maximizes their food intake based on this information. In addition, the archerfish is able to understand up to four different quantities and organize them mentally in an ordinal manner, similar to observations in higher vertebrates. These findings point in the direction of the existence of an approximate magnitude system in fish.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0174044
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2017
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We thank Gustavo Glusman and Asya Mikhaylov for technical assistance and Zvika Abramsky for his valuable suggestions. We gratefully acknowledge financial support from the Israel Science Foundation (grant No. 211/15), and the Helmsley Charitable Trust through the Agricultural, Biological and Cognitive Robotics Initiative of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2017 Karoubi et al. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences
  • General
  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology


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