- Title: Pigeons can distinguish words from non-words, study says
- Date: 28th September 2016
- Summary: NEW YORK, NEW YORK, UNITED STATES (FILE - MAY 5, 2016) (REUTERS) WIDE VIEW OF DECOMMISSIONED NAVY SHIP BAYLANDER PIGEONS FLYING OFF OF SHIP VARIOUS OF FLOCKS OF PIGEONS FLYING IN SKY
- Embargoed: 13th October 2016 14:16
- Keywords: pigeons homing pigeons reading pigeons orthographics birds bird studies
- Location: UNKNOWN / NEW YORK, NEW YORK, UNITED STATES / FRANKFURT, GERMANY
- City: UNKNOWN / NEW YORK, NEW YORK, UNITED STATES / FRANKFURT, GERMANY
- Country: Various
- Topics: Science
- Reuters ID: LVA00351HDD23
- Aspect Ratio: 16:9
- Story Text: A new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) has found that pigeons are showing greater orthographic skills, with the birds in the study distinguishing real words from non-words when displayed on a screen.
The study is the first to identify a non-primate species as having "orthographic" abilities.
Researchers at the University of Otago in New Zealand and Ruhr University in Germany trained four pigeons to choose between pecking four-letter words that appeared on a screen or pecking a symbol when the letters on the screen did not form a word. The distinguishing of the words showed their ability to visually process letter combinations.
"Bigrams," which are letter combinations like "EN" and "AL," formed part of the study's statistical analysis. Dr. Damian Scarf of the University of Otago's Department of Psychology said they tracked the statistical likelihood that these "bigrams" were more likely associated with words or non-words.
During the study, researchers found that the pigeons were able to build over time a vocabulary of 26 to 58 words. The birds were able to identify more than 8,000 non-words.
And rather than memorizing the words, the birds were often introduced to words they had never seen before, researchers said. The study found that the pigeons identified the new words correctly "at a rate significantly above chance."
Researchers said the birds' performances rivaled those of baboons who completed similar complex tasks.
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