Clever Hans: The True Story of the Counting, Adding, and Time-Telling Horse

Putnam. May 2020. 32p. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780525514985.
Gr 2-4–This picture book shares the story of Clever Hans, a horse who could supposedly count, add, and tell time. Wilhelm von Osten, who lived in Berlin in 1904, owned Hans, an intelligent, talented horse. Crowds appeared on the street daily to observe Hans. Scientists, scholars, and others came to prove that the horse’s skills were a hoax. Oskar Pfungst, an assistant of psychologist Carl Stumpf, put blinders on Hans. He determined that the horse needed to see in order to count and tell time. This “discovery” led to the theory that the horse was really interpreting people’s faces and body movements to determine if he was right. Pfgunst continued to explore this early concept of body language. The book ends with an explanation of the “Clever Hans effect” (an actual term in psychology) as well as how scientific interpretation requires double-blind testing. Lowery’s realistic, cartoon-style drawings are appealing.
VERDICT A unique and enlightening story about a lesser-known historical moment and its effects on the field of psychology that would work well as a read-aloud or jumping-off point for a unit on animal and human intelligence and psychology.

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