Levels of communication: The talking horse experiments

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In the early twentieth century, counting and speaking horses, like the famous Clever Hans or the Horses of Elberfeld, became widely debated subjects in experimental psychology. The idea was to determine whether their learning success was only a fraud, or if it might open up a new chapter in animal psychology - or even belong to the realm of parapsychology and telepathy. When their tricks were discovered, the teachers of the animals were marked as charlatans. Both the attempts to detect charlatans and the efforts to avoid this accusation during the talking horse experiments proceeded using the method of introducing new levels of communication into the human-animal interaction process in order to substantiate each respective standpoint. This paper argues that the scientific studies and debates on the talking horses are relevant not only from psychological, biological, and semiotic vantage points, but also from the perspective of communications theory, giving rise to the foundational issue of levels of communication.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)473 - 490
Number of pages18
JournalScience in Context
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 28 Jan 2022


  • Clever Hans
  • Communication theory
  • Elberfeld Horses
  • Karl Krall
  • Warren Weaver

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Sciences(all)
  • History and Philosophy of Science


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