Pigeons Learn How To Recognize Words Visually

Admin | Published 2016-09-24 07:08
Columbia livia, better known as Pigeons, learn to tell apart real human words from non-words by just processing their combinations - visually, this is according to a astonishing new study which is pioneered by researchers from University of Otago. University of Otago’s Dr. Damian Scarf, Department of Psychology and colleagues from New Zealand and Germany discovered that the performance of pigeons is very similar to that of formerly reported in baboons with regards to task this complex. Dr. Scarf is also this study’s first author, Sci-News reports.     Published within Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, this study spear heads to identify a non-primates  to have ‘orthographic’ abilities. In the said experiment, the pigeons were trained to draw with their beaks, or ‘peck’ so to speak, a signal or symbol everytime a non-word, composed of 4 letters, shows up – i.e. ‘MNIX’. The researchers then gradually added words with the 4 pigeons on experiment, building vocabularies from 26 to 58 words (real words this time) on top of over 8,000 ‘gibberish’ words. They then gradually introduced words that the pigeons have seen for the first time to check and confirm whether the pigeons were learning to tell apart the words from gibberish instead of mere memorizing. As astonishing as it can be, the pigeons accurately identified new words at a high rate, considerably above chance. Dr. Scarf said that they performed this achievement by following the arithmetical probability that ‘bigrams,’ consecutive 2 letters i.e. ‘AN’ or ‘Ne’, were very much likely associated with non-words versus actual words. Onur Güntürkün, Ruhr University Bochum’s Biopsychology Professor and Co-author of this study, said
“that pigeons — separated by 300 million years of evolution from humans and having vastly different brain architectures — show such a skill as orthographic processing is astonishing.”
Meanwhile, senior author Prof. Michael Colombo, added that:
“We may have to seriously re-think the use of the term ‘bird brain’ as a put down,”
Will this be a start of a distant-futuristic horde of pigeon messengers? Hit us with your comments below.  
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