Symbol-literate monkeys can be trained to combine, or add, pairs of large numbers. They transfer to a novel symbol set, ruling out memorization of each symbol pair. Their addition behavior indicates an underlying relative scaling of magnitude.
Weber's law can be explained either by a compressive scaling of sensory response with stimulus magnitude or by a proportional scaling of response variability. These two mechanisms can be distinguished by asking how quantities are added or subtracted. We trained Rhesus monkeys to associate 26 distinct symbols with 0–25 drops of reward, and then tested how they combine, or add, symbolically represented reward magnitude. We found that they could combine symbolically represented magnitudes, and they transferred this ability to a novel symbol set, indicating that they were performing a calculation, not just memorizing the value of each combination. The way they combined pairs of symbols indicated neither a linear nor a compressed scale, but rather a dynamically shifting, relative scaling.