April 12, 2012

Baboons identify real words in sea of gibberish

It seems bizarre but it's true. A story at physorg presents the results of a French study of baboon intelligence. The creatures were shown fake words (ITCS, for instance) and real words (such as KITE). The idea was that they had to pick real words from the offerings on the computer screen. Some words were real while others were gibberish. They learned by trial and error. They made their choices and, based on whether or not they got a treat, came to understand that some words are good while others are bad. Within a short time they could tell the real from the fake words -- even when they were shown a word they'd never seen!

The baboons don't know what the words mean, of course. What's happened is that they learned to identify the pattern of English -- what letters go with other letters. (SH and TH work, ZL and XP don't.) Armed with this knowledge and their own innate and formidable pattern-recognition skills, they were able to train themselves to identify real words. Isn't that amazing?

I say it all the time: the differences between us and other creatures are a matter of degree, nothing more. They're our cousins (and so are the trees).

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