Two chimpanzees were trained to select among 2 different amounts of candy (1-6 items). The task was designed so that selection of either array by the active (selector) chimpanzee resulted in that array being given to the passive (observer) animal, with the remaining (nonselected) array going to the selector. Neither animal was able to select consistently the smaller array, which would reap the larger reward. Rather, both animals preferentially selected the larger array, thereby receiving the smaller number of reinforcers. When Arabic numerals were substituted for the food arrays, however, the selector animal evidenced more optimal performance, immediately selecting the smaller numeral and thus receiving the larger reward. These findings suggest that a basic predisposition to respond to the perceptual-motivational features of incentive stimuli can interfere with task performance and that this interference can be overridden when abstract symbols serve as choice stimuli.
Boysen, S. T., & Berntson, G. G. (1995). Responses to quantity: perceptual versus cognitive mechanisms in chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes). Journal of Experimental Psychology: Animal Behavior Processes, 21(1), 82.