The Clever Hans Phenomenon!

Animals are smarter than we think, but how intelligent and educational are they? In the late 18th century, a horse named Clever Hans surprised the public by choosing the correct answer to a math problem. But was it really a miracle animal, a hoax, or something else entirely?

Wilhelm von Osten

Wilhelm von Osten, born in 1838, was a mathematics teacher by profession, but was a student all his life. His special interest was phrenology. This phrenology is a now-proven field that studies the size and shape of the human skull to determine intelligence and other characteristics. Osten wanted to apply the principles of phrenology to animals, and although his experiments with cats and bears were unsuccessful with varying degrees of pain, he finally seemed to succeed with a horse named Hans. I was. They count by tapping the numbers on their front hooves. Soon he was offering solutions to basic mathematical problems.

Wilhelm Von Osten

In 1891, as Osten began calling him Clever, his Hans became a national sensation in Germany, and eventually even media outlets like the New York Times made front pages about the allegedly talented horse. decorated. Osten never sought money from Hans and hosted the show free of charge for the large crowds who came to see it. Still, authorities speculated that something suspicious (or rather gibberish) was going on, and it wasn’t long before German school authorities began questioning the validity of Hans’ testimony. .

The Clever Hans Phenomenon

The Board of Education put together a task force of scientists, trainers, and other professional to investigate Osten’s claims and concluded in 1904 that he didn’t use hand gestures or other fraudulent means to manipulate the horse, but one psychologist, Oskar Pfungst, suspected that wasn’t the end of the story. After he got permission from Osten to test Hans, he went a step further than the Board’s commission—literally. He asked Osten to step back while he quizzed Hans, who correctly solved most of the problems but performed worse than usual. The farther away Osten stood, however, the fewer problems Hans could correctly solve. Next, Pfungst asked him to present Hans with questions Osten himself didn’t know the answers to, after which the horse’s correct response rate plummeted to zero.

It turned out that Osten was indeed not intentionally signaling the answers to Hans, but the horse picked up on subtle changes in his body language to determine the correct answer. For example, Hans could tell when he approached the right answer because the tension in Osten’s body suddenly decreased. The effect, which is observed in humans as well, has become known as the Clever Hans Phenomenon. People, especially those involved in behavioral studies or other situations where their responses are important, often respond to unintentional cues from the person questioning them rather than the question itself.