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Clever Hans the Math Horse

Article #251 • Written by Alan Bellows

In the late 1800s, a German high school mathematics instructor named Wilhelm Von Osten was pushing a few scientific envelopes from his home in Berlin. Among other things, he was a student of phrenology, the now discredited theory that one's intelligence, character, and personality traits can be derived based of the shape of one's head. But it was his keen interest in animal intelligence that would ultimately win him fame.

Von Osten firmly believed that humanity had greatly underestimated the reasoning skills and intelligence of animals. To test his hypothesis, he took it upon himself to tutor a cat, a horse, and a bear in the ways of mathematics. The cat was indifferent to his efforts, and the bear seemed outright hostile, but the arab stallion named Hans showed some real promise. With further tutelage, Hans the horse learned to use his hoof to tap out numbers written on a blackboard. Much to Von Osten's delight, jotting a "3" on the blackboard would prompt a tap-tap-tap from his pupil, a feat which Hans could repeat for any number under ten.

Encouraged by this success, Von Osten pressed his student further. The scientist drew out some basic arithmetic problems on his chalkboard, and attempted to train the horse in the symbols' meanings. Hans had no problem keeping up with the curriculum, and soon he was providing the correct responses to a variety of math problems including basic square roots and fractions. Hans was proving to be a clever horse indeed.

Starting in 1891, Von Osten began parading "Clever Hans" all over Germany to show off the horse's mathematical proficiency. As word of the spectacle spread, Hans' free exhibitions began drawing larger and larger crowds of curious onlookers. They were seldom disappointed.

"If the first day of the month is a Wednesday," Von Osten would ask Hans, who had learned to respond to verbal questions, "what is the date of the following Monday?" Six hoof-taps would follow. "What is the square root of sixteen?" Four taps. Von Osten also explained to the astonished crowds that Hans could spell out words with taps, where one tap is an "A", two taps a "B", and so on. Hans would then demonstrate this talent by spelling out the names of people he knew, and responding to simple questions. He could also tap out the time of day. Though he made mistakes occasionally, his accuracy was found to be roughly 89%. By some estimates, Hans' grasp of mathematics was equivalent to a fourteen-year-old's.

Naturally there were many skeptics, particularly after the New York Times featured the crafty horse in a front-page story. Germany's board of education asked to conduct an independent investigation into Hans' abilities, and Von Osten agreed. He was a man of science, after all, and he knew that there was no fraud to expose. The board members assembled a number of scientific minds to join the Hans Commission, including two zoologists, a psychologist, a horse trainer, several school teachers, and a circus manager. Following extensive independent testing, the commission concluded in 1904 that there was no trickery involved in Hans' responses; as far as they could tell, the horse's talents were genuine.

The Hans Commission then passed the investigation on to Oskar Pfungst, a psychologist with some novel ideas on how to best unravel the mystery. Pfungst erected a large tent to house his experiments, thereby removing the contaminating effects of outside visual stimuli. In order to produce a sufficient data set, the scientist compiled a very large list of questions, and carefully outlined the different variables that were to be considered. Thus Pfungst began his interrogation of Hans.

As expected, Hans performed very well when questions were posed by his owner, Von Osten. He also received very high marks for accuracy with other questioners under normal conditions. But when the experiment called for the questioner to stand farther away, something interesting happened: the horse's accuracy diminished somewhat, though it wasn't immediately clear why.

It was the final two variables which proved to be the most revealing. In instances where the questioner didn't know the answer to a question in advance, the accuracy of Hans' responses plummeted to nearly zero. Likewise when the questioner was completely concealed from him. It seemed that Hans' cleverness hinged on his ability to have an up-close, unobstructed view of the person who knew the correct answer. The researchers also found evidence that hounding a horse with questions he can't answer leads to painful horse-bites.

Pfungst continued his experiments, but with a new emphasis on observing the humans interacting with Hans. The psychologist immediately noticed that each questioner's breathing, posture, and facial expression involuntarily changed each time the hoof tapped, showing ever-so-slight increases in tension. Once the "correct" tap was made, that subtle underlying tension suddenly disappeared from the person's face, which Hans apparently took as the cue to stop tapping. Pfungst also noticed that this tension was not present when the questioner was unaware of the correct answer, which left Hans without the necessary feedback.

Though the experiment strongly indicated that the horse probably had no real grasp of math, it did uncover an extraordinary insight. Hans wasn't dipping into a reservoir of intellect to work out the answers, he was merely being receptive to the subtle, unconscious cues which were universally present in his human questioners. There is evidence to indicate that horses may possess an enhanced sensitivity to inconspicuous body language, perhaps as a key part of their social interactions with other horses.

Once he became aware of these cues, Pfungst was able to rival Hans' accuracy by placing himself in the "horse" role, tapping out his answers to researchers' questions and keeping a sharp eye on their body language. Even more interestingly, he discovered that questioners seemed unable to suppress these subtle cues, even when made aware of them.

In the intervening years, it has been found that many animals are sensitive to such cues from their human masters. Today, the term "Clever Hans Effect" is used to describe the influence of a questioner's subtle and unintentional cues upon their subjects, in both humans and in animals. To prevent prejudices and foreknowledge from contaminating experimental results, modern science employs the double-blind method where researchers and subjects are unaware of many details of the experiment until after the results are recorded. For instance, when drug-sniffing dogs undergo training, none of the people present know which containers have drugs in them; otherwise their body language might betray the location and render the exercise useless.

Wilhelm Von Osten never really accepted the Clever Hans explanation, so he and his horse continued to put on their math-and-body-language show throughout Germany for some time. Throughout their career, the pair continued to draw large and enthusiastic crowds. Though Hans the horse knew nothing of math and had a flimsy grasp of German at best, his ability to fool so many people for so long clearly gives him a legitimate claim to cleverness. Considering his gifts in reading humans' unconscious tells, there's also little doubt that with some opposable thumbs and a stack of high society, Hans would have made one hell of a card player.

Article written by Alan Bellows, published on 02 February 2007. Alan is the founder/designer/head writer/managing editor of Damn Interesting.

Article design and artwork by Alan Bellows.
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83 Comments
CravenMorhead
Posted 02 February 2007 at 09:06 am

Damn interesting!

I find it astounding how little credit is given to animals. Elephants grieve, as well as show genetic memory is some cases. Dogs are trainable, even moreso then some people. Cats are like many managers.

CM


schall1
Posted 02 February 2007 at 09:07 am

Great story.


another viewpoint
Posted 02 February 2007 at 09:27 am

....W-I-LLLL-B-U-R...why don't you smile?

Trainable...more like conditioning (and I don't mean the air type). Then again, pets do a good job getting their masters to perform a variety of tricks...like filling the food and water bowl, opening the door to let them go out, etc. Now who was really trained?

Alan, thanks for a nice story...don't think the horse will follow the lead of the fish from your last article... well, I hope not. That would REALLY hurt!


dillchuk
Posted 02 February 2007 at 09:30 am

This reminds me of a money-winning video on America's Funniest Videos where a man asks his dog simple math questions. Of course, it's completely obvious that the dog simply keeps barking until the owner says, "Good boy!".


HarleyHetz
Posted 02 February 2007 at 09:37 am

Amazing, I saw something very similar on America's Funniest Videos just the other day, a guy claimed his dog could bark answers to math questions in a very similar fashion. I thought he just stopped the dog when he got to the right number, but it could have been this too I guess...DI and a fine job Alan.


HarleyHetz
Posted 02 February 2007 at 09:38 am

That's amazing that as I was posting that, so was dillchuk!!! LOL


senorstu
Posted 02 February 2007 at 09:53 am

When I first heard the explanation behind Hans' cleverness, I found it hard to believe that an animal could be so perceptive of body language, even to the point of the trainer not realizing he's sending signals. But after working with horses a few years back, I can completely understand it. Horses have an ability to perceive and intuit that borders on ESP.


sulkykid
Posted 02 February 2007 at 09:59 am

CravenMorhead! You were first! Three cheers for CravenMorhead! Woot, Woot, Woot!


J.K.
Posted 02 February 2007 at 10:10 am

Sulky why not just go off and rot in a corner where 'first' fools like you deserve to die in ok?

Seriously this is a really good topic here discussed on this new update as it really gives the true insight into what an animal can pick up off a person. It also makes you really wonder though when looking at your own pets from when you first have them to later on who exactly is training whom? I mean you think you're putting the dog out as it's time, but could it be you were trained to know if he stands there, barks, stares vacantly those are strikes 1, 2, 3, and then out comes the poo on the rug. In a way it is almost like how little kids can kind of train their parents on at the basic level of getting what they want. Cry like mad when you're hungry and it's not there, parent will tire of it and then put some food down for you. All that is similar in a way of thought like the horse reading tells.

Makes you really wonder about that Dogs Playing Poker piece of art now doesn't it?


lip_ring
Posted 02 February 2007 at 10:19 am

So now, instead of people claiming "first", others claim it for them? :D


dylanfan
Posted 02 February 2007 at 10:32 am

"The cat was indifferent to his efforts, and the bear seemed outright hostile"

Freaking hilarious. I can just see the cat licking its paws and thinking, "Whatever, moron."

Very interesting article on how animals can perceive a lot more than we know.


CravenMorhead
Posted 02 February 2007 at 10:40 am

sulkykid said: "CravenMorhead! You were first! Three cheers for CravenMorhead! Woot, Woot, Woot!"

So I was... so I was. Thankfully that wasn't my only accolade. ;-)

Always,
Craven Morhead


CanInternet
Posted 02 February 2007 at 10:47 am

I had a cat and we used to impress visitors. I´d say "Stay!" which the cat would do offcourse since there was nothing to it. Then I would say "come pussy come here" and she would come knowing some good petting was laying in store for her.
The oooh´s and aaaah´s allways amazed me.
Not the cat though.
On topic: 42


misanthrope
Posted 02 February 2007 at 10:51 am

Dogs are trainable, even moreso then some people.

Dead fish are more trainable than some people...


noway
Posted 02 February 2007 at 11:52 am

Kinda reminds me of a Democrat


BlueBearr
Posted 02 February 2007 at 11:59 am

...horses may possess an enhanced sensitivity to inconspicuous body language, perhaps as a key part of their social interactions with other horses.

Perhaps - but could it also be that humans have been unconsciously selectively breeding horses for sensitivity to humans for thousands of years?

Great article.


Misfit
Posted 02 February 2007 at 12:15 pm

This is one of the best 10 articles I've read here, I'm not even kidding.


wstngtime78
Posted 02 February 2007 at 12:23 pm

I always loved this story. Its a staple in every psych 100 class. Its a terrific example of not blindly following something amazing and how scientific testing works. As always, DI.


Chory
Posted 02 February 2007 at 12:23 pm

BlueBearr - That could very well be true. Especially considering Hans was an Arab; that particular breed has been domestic longer than other breeds.


Stead311
Posted 02 February 2007 at 12:56 pm

Totally mind boggling. Wonderful article, great job again Alan. I think the best part was that this article had nothing to do with small fish that wiggle into body parts. Yes... in fact that IS the best part of this article.

DI good job.


oneeyechuck
Posted 02 February 2007 at 02:14 pm

I wonder if one could train a horse to be a "lie detector"?

(btw- I've worked with people who were less trainable than dead fish. )

Another fine job, Alan. Once I'm back to playing with my Tonka toys, I'll pre-order a book.


Fibonacci
Posted 02 February 2007 at 02:27 pm

Wilhelm Von Osten clearly wasnt the brightest of people if he still believed in phrenology as it was disproven as pseudoscience over 140 years ago.

Is the horse's intuition and insight the same sort of thing when animals go nuts before earthquakes and the like?

Hardly ever,
Fibonacci.


prabhuly
Posted 02 February 2007 at 02:59 pm

yeaah, teach horses to play poker :D

and gogo J.K. about Dogs Playing Poker


1c3d0g
Posted 02 February 2007 at 04:57 pm

CravenMorhead: absolutely! That's why I love animals (well except maybe the candiru :-P ), there's so much we human beings can learn from them.

misanthrope: ROFL! :-D


ti83
Posted 02 February 2007 at 05:55 pm

I think it would be interesting to know if some sort of "subconscious" selective breeding led to very sensitive horses. I wish I were sensitive, I can't even cry.

Anyway, DI.


detrater
Posted 02 February 2007 at 05:55 pm

I'm a retired math teacher and the damn horse was much smarter then many of my students. (c;}


cerealkiller
Posted 02 February 2007 at 08:17 pm

I am not surprised by that story. My dogs are definitely smarter than I am. Too smart for their own damn good- they've got me trained very well.


adamj.
Posted 02 February 2007 at 09:29 pm

28th!


brienhopkins
Posted 02 February 2007 at 09:41 pm

I don't whats more interesting: Clever Han or these scientist's names.


etonalife
Posted 03 February 2007 at 02:09 am

Damn good article. And very well written, you had me on my toes and laughing to boot.

Fibonacci said: "Is the horse's intuition and insight the same sort of thing when animals go nuts before earthquakes and the like?"

Other than animals being much more sensitive to their other senses, I think it may be more related to the horse being a herd animal that follows a leader. Cats and bears, although somewhat trainable given their temperament, are solitary creatures not typically given to listening to the demands of others. The horse, like all early useful domesticated animals, stick together. They would be acutely aware of what their fellow members are doing, especially the alpha's. And when along came humans, with their opposable thumbs holding weapons and a plethora of food, it would be (relatively?) easy to usurp the alpha's position for ourselves. Then as the alpha, they've always got their eyes on you. I've noticed this with my dog, always watching what I do, and my moods. He sure can drop his tail if I feel irritated, without even any sound or obvious gestures on my part. The cat will just walk away like I don't exist. One for worship and one for humbleness huh...


damninterestingfan
Posted 03 February 2007 at 07:03 am

dylanfan said: ""The cat was indifferent to his efforts, and the bear seemed outright hostile"

Freaking hilarious. I can just see the cat licking its paws and thinking, "Whatever, moron."

"

lol that just reminded me of some literature classes in my institute :D

Quite interesting article i believed somehow on the horse's abilities until it came to the point of the square roots ^^


debbiebf
Posted 03 February 2007 at 07:09 am

As for me, I am convinced my cat can read my mind. I am so careful not to talk about it at all, but when it comes time to get her for the vet, where is she? In the middle under the king sized bed. And that is the ONLY time she is there.


middlenamefrank
Posted 03 February 2007 at 10:24 am

Funny thing nobody else has mentioned: Hans was getting his answers from Von Osten, and his math skills were estimated to be on par with a 14-year-old's. Doesn't say too much for Von Osten's intellectual abilities, does it?


Tink
Posted 03 February 2007 at 10:31 am

middlenamefrank said: "Funny thing nobody else has mentioned: Hans was getting his answers from Von Osten, and his math skills were estimated to be on par with a 14-year-old's. Doesn't say too much for Von Osten's intellectual abilities, does it?"

Lol, yeah, aint it a shame; you get a great Von and pony show on the road and then some scientist comes along and Pfungst it all up!

Used to think I had a great wit, then my friends pointed out that I was only half right. Hee-hee. 8=)

Di! again!


Dave Group
Posted 03 February 2007 at 02:40 pm

W-I-L-L-L-B-U-R, I've developed a formula for predicting prime numbers. Just give me some sugar cubes and I'll reveal it, W-I-L-L-B-U-R.


Canadian_Nate
Posted 03 February 2007 at 03:05 pm

Hans the "clever" horse sounds like anyone who believes a word of filth that michael moore suggests


Silverhill
Posted 03 February 2007 at 04:01 pm

middlenamefrank said: "Funny thing nobody else has mentioned: Hans was getting his answers from Von Osten, and his math skills were estimated to be on par with a 14-year-old's. Doesn't say too much for Von Osten's intellectual abilities, does it?"

This doesn't mean that von Osten's math skills were at a 14-year-old's level; he knew the right answers, but did not always (unconsciously) cue Hans correctly.

Canadian_Nate said: "Hans the "clever" horse sounds like anyone who believes a word of filth that michael moore suggests"

Canadian_Nate, please go somewhere else with your political blathering--it's not relevant, or needed, or desirable, here.


HiEv
Posted 03 February 2007 at 06:26 pm

noway said: "Kinda reminds me of a Democrat"

Canadian_Nate said: "Hans the "clever" horse sounds like anyone who believes a word of filth that michael moore suggests"

Comments like these just make you want to run out and join up with the Republican party, don't they? ;-)

Anyways, great article. I've always liked this story, though I hadn't actually heard all of the details on how they determined what was going on before. Let's hear it for the scientific method! Darn shame that Von Osten was so stuck in his belief system that he blinded himself to the facts of what was really going on. Maybe you should do an article on cognitive dissonance next? ;-)


fecalmatters
Posted 03 February 2007 at 08:05 pm

Canadian_Nate said: "Hans the "clever" horse sounds like anyone who believes a word of filth that michael moore suggests"

Turns out that Hans was right 86% of the time, however he got there...


gerwitz
Posted 03 February 2007 at 09:23 pm

I really wish he'd had a different name.


kgy121
Posted 03 February 2007 at 09:24 pm

debbiebf said: "As for me, I am convinced my cat can read my mind. I am so careful not to talk about it at all, but when it comes time to get her for the vet, where is she? In the middle under the king sized bed. And that is the ONLY time she is there."

Maybe your cat can read the calender. Just a thought. :P


frenchsnake
Posted 04 February 2007 at 12:19 am

I remember this story... I think it's just as amazing that this horse can read people as it would be if it could really do math, because most people wouldn't pick up on those signals from their fellow human beings.

And on the math subject, if the horse didn't know the answer when the questioner didn't, I hope the human was quick with his math skills. I wonder if Hans would just stand there when a difficult question was posed in the audience and his trainer was standing beside him frantically calculating... and when Hans got the answer wrong and someone else pointed it out, the trainer would think, Wow, that's funny, I got it wrong too...


Jeremy
Posted 04 February 2007 at 01:24 am

I once convinced my cousin (who was 4 at the time) that our grandparents' dog Bobo could understand me and answer yes and no questions. Basically I'd ask her a question, and surreptitously wag my finger either side to side for yes or up and down for no. Bobo would invariably move her head to follow the motion of my finger.

I guess all things considered, Hans' trick was better.


AZ196F
Posted 04 February 2007 at 02:42 am

"wag my finger either side to side for yes or up and down for no"

I always thought up and down was yes and side to side was no.


Adrian
Posted 04 February 2007 at 03:07 am

Great article. As usual, reading the comments wraps up a good read with some chuckles.


Canadian_Nate
Posted 04 February 2007 at 05:09 pm

Canadian_Nate, please go somewhere else with your political blathering–it's not relevant, or needed, or desirable, here."

fecalmatters, LOL, many things are not relevant posted in the comments, nor was I making a political gesture, although I admit maybe I shouldn't have been browsing his website before I drifted onto here. Please don't be offended and get your panties up in a bunch


Canadian_Nate
Posted 04 February 2007 at 05:11 pm

My apologies again, to "fecalmatters". Hans was right 86% of time. And my previous comment was meant to be addressed at SilverHill, not you. (ive read these comments sometimes, and wow, theyre a blast. wanted to see if I could join some of the frey)


Princess Sunshine
Posted 04 February 2007 at 06:15 pm

horses are scary enough when they're stupid, but a smart one that can actually think would creep the hell out of me.


brienhopkins
Posted 04 February 2007 at 11:55 pm

Big deal. Mister Ed can talk.


JamesCuthbert
Posted 05 February 2007 at 06:00 am

Poor horse I bet if you asked it whether it enjoyed doing maths it would stamp it feet!


Xoebe
Posted 05 February 2007 at 09:56 am

Ever watch the Dog Whisperer on National Geographic channel? Cesar Milan points out that the dogs are watching us all the time, and are very sensitive to their owner's moods and abilities. Being pack animals, their survival depends on it - and in order to become alpha, you have to know when to do it, or you won't breed. Interesting. That could apply to "smart" horses, as an earlier poster pointed out. Perhaps we have been inadvertantly breeding "smart" horses, when what we have really been breeding are observant and sensitive ones. Of course, that can apply to people as well.

Yes, I give this a full Damn Interesting.


Blake
Posted 06 February 2007 at 12:57 pm

"The cat was indifferent to his efforts, and the bear seemed outright hostile"

This made me think of Winston Churchill's saying:

"Cats look down on us, dogs look up to us, but pigs, pigs treat us as equals."


spiffitz
Posted 07 February 2007 at 08:19 pm

How about the cat's sense of knowing where you're about to put your foot?


needles
Posted 09 February 2007 at 03:30 pm

My English teacher always insists that animals do not have feelings, or a sense of right and wrong. He says that the only thing they are motivated by is positive/negative reinforcement. I love animals, and am reluctant to believe this.


azb8496
Posted 09 February 2007 at 06:19 pm

needles said: "My English teacher always insists that animals do not have feelings, or a sense of right and wrong. He says that the only thing they are motivated by is positive/negative reinforcement. I love animals, and am reluctant to believe this."

Then you'll be reluctant to believe that all animals learn this way. Even you.


Wargamer
Posted 14 February 2007 at 05:01 pm

Doorbell Cat.

I kid you not. My parents accused us and other kids in the neighbourhood of ringing the doorbell and running away to hide. But it happened to me too. One day I caught our Siamese male cat climbing up the brick wall next to the front door and pawing the doorbell. All that time we never noticed that each time this happened, the cat just happened to be waiting at the front door to come inside.
Yet his mother, who was often with him, never did.


RageIsTheNewBlack
Posted 18 February 2007 at 08:37 pm

oneeyechuck said: "I wonder if one could train a horse to be a "lie detector"?

That's actually a good idea. Lie detectors make mistakes all the time (I know someone who never even drank or smoked that had to take a lie detector test to get a job and the machine said that she smoked pot and she never got the job). I mean, if a horse has an 89% accuracy on answering math questions according to facial expressions, imagine how well it could do with lie detecting.

On the topic of lie detectors (I know I'm getting way off-topic, but I've always wanted to point this out) lie detectors work based on heart rate and things that are affected by nervousness, but if I was a completely innocent person and I was in jail and they were giving me a polygraph test I'd be pretty damn nervous, and who knows, the machine could misinterpret my signs of understandable nervousness to make it seem like I was lying.


E-hero
Posted 11 March 2007 at 07:01 am

if I was a completely innocent person and I was in jail and they were giving me a polygraph test I'd be pretty damn nervous, and who knows, the machine could misinterpret my signs of understandable nervousness to make it seem like I was lying."

This is somewhat true, nervousness can confuse lie detectors. On the other hand, most people who have been trained to use and check lie detectors should still be able to acurately determine if they are lying, being nervous just makes it harder.


Watcher
Posted 01 March 2008 at 01:18 pm

AZ196F said: ""wag my finger either side to side for yes or up and down for no"

I always thought up and down was yes and side to side was no."

Maybe that's only true north of the Equator. :)


Dropbear
Posted 26 March 2008 at 06:17 am

BlueBearr said: "Perhaps - but could it also be that humans have been unconsciously selectively breeding horses for sensitivity to humans for thousands of years?"

This of course is possible, but if you observe horses in either the wild or in a herd situation you will find that the "language" that exists between them is incredibly subtle.
It was a good thing though that Hans existed in a time of scientific reasoning because a horse that had similar talents in the medieval times ended up, (along with its owner,) being declared a witch and was burnt at the stake. Or rather, its owner was the witch...but end result was both died rather nastily.


superslicedog
Posted 17 April 2008 at 02:42 pm

facinating i wonder if the horses ability to simply remeber responses to certain stimuli had on the experiment


Two Cents from Girth
Posted 30 May 2008 at 05:50 am

Great article!
For as intelligent as we are, most of mankind has taken a narrow approach to see intelligence in other creatures until this last century. We live in an environment surrounded by many forms and degrees of intelligence and reason. If most could not admit seeing intelligence in our own pets that live in our home until recently, how long will it be before we can identify "life" in all its forms???
It is amazing how hard some animals work to learn and adapt to their environment.
Did the horse tap in his sleep?? :)


Bleupea
Posted 30 May 2008 at 06:32 am

Wow... I just read this in the archives a few weeks ago, but nevertheless... love it!
That horse was so intuitive... great story.


Dave Group
Posted 30 May 2008 at 06:40 am

"Re-runniness . . . "?


sleepy39
Posted 30 May 2008 at 12:49 pm

I like it. Well done!!!


Gigbo Renfrack
Posted 30 May 2008 at 05:47 pm

Horses couldn't be worse than the currently used 'lie detector' equipment. Not only did the original inventor state plainly that this was Only a circus trick (see wikipedia on lie detectors) and should Never be taken seriously, but the previous seven heads of the FBI's polygraph office (as of 2002 anyway) have resigned in disgust after pointing out to their bosses, repeatedly, the futility of using it to vet employees. One demonstrated publicly that a seven year old child could learn to fool a senior tester in under a minute. Another informed Congress after Sept. 11th, 2001 that they would have to accept over 60% false positives to be Sure of eliminating all of the possible spies using even the most modern versions of the 'lie detector'.

Having worked in the Dept. of Justice with both the Federal Marshalls service (who primarily administer these tests to other federal agency employees) and FBI agents in counterintelligence areas, they all have told me that the personal feelings and opinions of the tester about a testee are Far more critical than the actual readings obtained. In fact, using and depending on the polygraphs loses the FBI some of the best potential agents exactly Because they are upset and insulted to have their deep patriotism questioned in the testing and the reaction is mis-read as a lie by less experienced testers.

The only reason its used at all is that it is relatively simple, fast and cheap and gives a yes/no answer, as opposed to a true and properly run investigation and ongoing loyalty checking efforts, which are tedious, expensive and rarely, if ever, conclusive until the evidence is overwhelming.


Ronald
Posted 30 May 2008 at 11:05 pm

Superfarts comment in the article on quicksand sums up my opinion on horses.


Phoenix rider
Posted 31 May 2008 at 01:40 am

My parrot (Eclectus, Red Sided) and I are giving each other curious glances.


Phoenix rider
Posted 31 May 2008 at 01:57 am

Ok... he won this round
and now I must give him a chunk of cheese.


Hedgehogheaven
Posted 31 May 2008 at 07:19 am

We once had a horse named seaspray, that constantly got out of a locked stall, we would come home, and he would be out with 4 of his stall mates, wandering down the roadside. We had put it down to the neighbors kids having "Fun". So we decided to catch them, we acted like were leaving, the went and sat up on the hill overlooking the stables, we watched in amazement as Seaspray fiddled with his lock, removed the snap in the door, and then turned and worked on his 4 buddies stalls and lifted the latches and got them free also....then calmly walked over to graze on that tempting patch of clover....horses amaze me.


js305
Posted 31 May 2008 at 08:29 pm

I have a similar experience with a Shetland pony that could open many kinds of latches, hooks, and other devices. If she could get her mouth on it she could figure it out, until we put padlocks on the gates. Same story, she didn't run off, just wanted on the other side of the fence. For a while we had her in the back yard. She stood only about 3 1/2 feet tall at her back so she was more like a big dog. She learned to open a glass sliding door and come in and get a drink out of the dog's water bowl. The only bad part about that was she never learned to close the door behind her...


Pistol
Posted 01 June 2008 at 06:33 pm

For further reading on how animals think, I would recommend Temple Grandin's book: Animals In Translation. It is a fascinating book.


DontPanic
Posted 05 June 2008 at 02:57 am

horses as lie detectors? how exactly would that work? i doubt they could pick up your heart rate, blood pressure etc. Horses smell. even if they are 'intellegent'.


Hayley
Posted 05 June 2008 at 11:36 am

We had a horse who could open doors like that at a ranch I used to ride at. We called him Houdini because he knew how to untie the knots in the rope holding him to the fence. We would find him sometimes wandering across the riding area, or the barn, or the forests surrounding the stable. Clever thing that he was, luckily he never taught the other horses to untie themselves too.


Radiatidon
Posted 06 June 2008 at 09:04 am

I also had a “Too Smart Horse”. In the pasture close to my home, I would divide-up the area using fiber hot wire. That way I could control the grazing areas of the animals, except for one mare. This thoroughbred stood at an impressive 17 hands. Yet she would get around the twin strand hot wire without disturbing either it or the mounting poles. Generally if an animal was where it should not be, the wire was broken or strung across the ground along with the mounting poles. Not her. After almost two weeks I finally caught her by-passing the wire. This tall animal had learned how to drop to the ground and shimmy like a soldier on her belly underneath the middle strand of the hot fiber wire which was around 30” or so off the ground.

Wished I had gotten it on video, really interesting, yet funny at the same time. With her jaw touching the ground, she would weave her head back and forth like a snake while pulling her body forward by the inch using just the fore legs with her rear legs dragging behind. Not a normal sight one would expect to see a horse in. Yet it worked and she could get to the forbidden pastures to the envy of the rest of the herd. Adding a third strand to the setup stopped her wanderings. It was quite funny watching her after, walking back and forth along the hot fence, head hung low as she examined that cursed third wire. Seeking an area she would feel confident in breaching.

This mare would also step over the pig panels and trot over to the pig feeders, flip open the feeder’s top panel with her nose, and eat the grower grain. I used some snow-chain rubber bungees to strap down the lids. Nope, she learned to use a hoof to pop the rubbers off. Next I surrounded the pen with elevated mounting poles and hot fiber wire. This one took her a week to get around. She learned to break branches off some pasture trees and if she dropped them on the fiber wire, she could cross without getting shocked. This caused the hot wire to ground out when it touched the pig panels. Finally I installed a lock and hasp to beat her at this game.

Once again I wished I had videoed it. She would push her rump against a lower limb until it snapped. The she would complete the break by stepping on it with a front hoof. Once freed from the tree, she would grasp it in her mouth and drag it to the pig enclosure, dropping it onto the hot wire. As far as catching her and riding, all I had to do was whistle and call. She always came running and stood patiently as I saddled her, due to her size and length, a real pleasure to ride.

As a side note, she was not the only animal that we've owned that displayed high intelligence.

The Don


Christopher S. Putnam
Posted 06 June 2008 at 09:34 pm

Yet she would get around the twin strand hot wire without disturbing either it or the mounting poles. Generally if an animal was where it should not be, the wire was broken or strung across the ground along with the mounting poles. Not her. After almost two weeks I finally caught her by-passing the wire. This tall animal had learned how to drop to the ground and shimmy like a soldier on her belly underneath the middle strand of the hot fiber wire which was around 30” or so off the ground.

When I was a kid, our family raised some pet goats. No conventional fence could hold them in -- they'd find a weak spot and ram it until it broke open. Eventually we set up an electric fence, which kept them stumped for at least a couple of weeks.

Turns out goat horns are rather good insulators. The buggers would push up the bottom wire with their horns and slide right under, then head up the road together to party. Luckily, if you clapped your hands and shouted at them a couple times, they'd know the jig was up and sheepishly (hiyo!) turn around and march back into the pen.

Are goats off-topic?


piratelickitysplits
Posted 08 June 2008 at 09:41 pm

Last time I checked, a horse's ability to find square roots didn't ever save one from a predator or find it food or shelter. It seems weird that a scientist chose to deduce an animal's intelligence by testing it in ways it never would have developed. It seems from the above stories that horses(and goats) are very intelligent in applicable ways. Would a horse judge our intelligence in our ability to jump fences or choose the healthiest grains?


BlackFoxOne
Posted 16 June 2008 at 05:14 am

Great Story! That is one smart cookie for sure!

JT


ao
Posted 22 June 2008 at 02:26 pm

spam removed


herkayle
Posted 23 July 2008 at 02:52 pm

Awesome!! Horse are definitely clever. I also consider them as one of man's best friend. Ohh, I remember this videos I watched entitled "Horse party?" wherein they featured the funny budwiser snowball fight - horses and Horse Party!... It's priceless :- )


amchornetgirl
Posted 10 November 2008 at 02:13 pm

Has anyone else here read the book "Beautiful Jim Key"? He supposedly came before Clever Hans, and he's American ;) His talents were used to help promote humane treatment of animals, which during that time period was somewhat unheard of.


comamoto
Posted 26 February 2009 at 06:16 am

AZ196F said: ""wag my finger either side to side for yes or up and down for no"

I always thought up and down was yes and side to side was no."

Not in Bulgaria. "No" is nodding your head; "yes" isn't shaking your head (rotating on your neck/axis) but tilting it back and forth between your shoulders.

I guess that may apply to eastern Europe in general, but haven't visited those countries yet.

Sorry, off-topic...

Fabulous article!! (Wish I'd seen "Equus"...damn, off-topic again!)


John Does
Posted 30 November 2013 at 10:57 am

I belive it's also been proven that dogs can read human emotions by observing their facial expressions. Barking is actually a skill that emerged as a way of cummunicating with humans. Coincidentally, dogs and horses are among the most early domesticated animals.Suppose the horses abilities too developed not as a means of communicating with other horses, but with humans?
Great article, as usually!


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