It’s long been documented that birds are smart critters, but Dr Damian Scarf from the University of Otago’s Department of Psychology has gone a step further by demonstrating how it’s possible to train pigeons to recognize real words and differentiate them from fake words.
In a study documented in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), Scarf and his colleagues trained pigeons to pay attention to a screen that displayed both an English word and a star. If the word was a real word, the pigeon needed to peck the word, but if the word was gibberish, then the bird would need to peck the star.
The words were limited to simple ones, but were both real and fake nonetheless. Using their skills in visual processing, pigeons seem more than capable of recognizing one from another; with a little training, of course.
Out of a grand total of 18 pigeons, just four of them were capable of accurately distinguishing between whether a word was real or not more than half of the time, so research was later limited to just those four.
With an accuracy rate of above average, it has been shown that the pigeons are capable of learning human vocabulary.
Even to eliminate the chance that they were merely memorizing what words looked like, the researchers occasionally showed them new words they’ve never seen before and continued to see above-average accuracy.
"These findings demonstrate that visual systems neither genetically nor organizationally similar to humans can be recycled to represent the orthographic code that defines words," the researchers commented.
A video shared on YouTube by lead researcher Damian Scarf shows one of the pigeons in action:
Next time you call someone a ‘bird brain,’ they might be able to take it as a compliment instead of an insult. It seems they’ve got the mind power to recognize patterns, but just aren’t conditioned to do it all their lives like we are.
Source: Science Alert