The Clever Hans Effect: Cues

In my life I have used the ‘clever Hans Effect’ on numerous occasions. Nowhere apparent than when i was an infant communicating with my moms and when I was in hospital. After I regained my consciousness after 3 weeks in a coma, I spent further 3 moths with no speech. Also I was very weak, I could barely move a muscle. However I was slowly regaining the awareness and subjective responsiveness.

After 3 months in the intensive Care Unit is when I was transferred from LGI to Chapel Alleton Hospital. Where I received further rehabilitation coupled with speech therapy sessions. So with no speech and before I regained my physical strength to facilitate making gestures, how did I manage to communicate with my relatives and the hospital staff. At this point I was like toddler having to relearn everything, though I lacked the vigour and determination of one. However I could cry and make a racket like them and that was my survival mechanism. The racket was the only type of living I knew at that point.

Clever Hans Effect

⁃ Wilhelm Von Osten was a German maths teacher; a horse trainer, and a fervent student of phrenology. As a phrenologist, he adhered to the belief that a person’s intelligence, among other things, can be determined by the size and shape of their head/ skull. In other words Phrenology was of the notion that the bigger the skull, the better the power and intelligence. Phrenology spread from Britain and the delusional and absurd concept died away by the early 1850s but a new movement was reintroduced by the Americans in the 1860s and 1870s. So absurd that only the ignorant and gullible were susceptible to the pretensions of the delusional phrenologists (nothing but zealous extremists). However, they were laying foundation for further research given that some of its components still live on. For instance, “The mind is composed of multiple distinct, innate faculties”.

⁃ Also due in part to Charles Darwin’s evolution theory in early 20th century, many became interested in animal intelligence

⁃ In 1891 Von Osten was performing free shows all over Germany. By this stage, Hans was able to spell out names with his taps, as well as tell the time and could work out dates and that.

⁃ The Hans commission (a board of 13 professionals including a veterinarian and a circus manager), was appointed to investigate the veracity of the scientific claims. After reaching a conclusion that there was no tricks involved. Pfunst a psychologist remained skeptical thus carried out further investigations. The horses’ accuracy diminished when Von Osten was asked to stand further away from the horse when asking questions.

⁃ Pfunst asserted that hans used the subtle unintentional cues (reactions of his trainer) to judge when to stop tapping.

⁃ Having said that, it’s possible to communicate with any animal by spending considerable amount of time learning from each other, using the ‘Clever Hans Effect’. Once upon a time mothers also used similar communication skills to interact with their babies. In hospital I would also stop making a racket/ crying when the correct reaction and actions were taken by people around. If you give a child a lollipop, the child will smile at you and if you take it from the child, the child will start crying. To show you that what you are doing is mean.


First and foremost thank you to my beautiful sister Juliet, for being part of the decision to sustain my life. Similarly a massive salutation to Dr Paul Chumas, a Neurosurgeon at the Leeds General Infirmary. Paul you are not only a professional but also proficient and talented at what you do. Thanks to Georgina for inspiring me to write this posts, you a dime. Last but not least I would like convey my gratitude to the NHS and it’s hard working staff. God bless you all

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