October 10, 2016: According to a recent study at New Zealand’s University of Otago and Ruhr University, Germany pigeons can actually be smarter than it was perceived earlier as they have the ability to ‘read’.
The pigeon can learn to distinguish between real words and non-words by looking at the letter combinations.
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The study proves that a non-primate species has some ‘orthographic abilities’- the ability to recognize a three-dimensional object which is represented in two dimensions such as words.
In the experiment, four of the brainiest birds were trained for over the course of eight months by the researchers.
The researchers called the process ‘autoshaping’. This process is involved shining a light through three holes to get the attention of the bird, soon after that food was to be presented in a tiny tray.
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After the completion of the process, several times, the pigeons actually learned that food is followed by the flashing of the light; they peck the light in anticipation of a snack.
Then, they were trained to peck four-letter words coming up in the three holes or when a non-word is displayed it is to peck a star symbol.
The research team added words one by one with the four pigeons, building up vocabularies ranging from 26 to 58 words and more than 8,000 non-words.
According to ANI, “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,” said the co-researcher Onur Gunturkun
The researchers believed that a controversial theory called ‘neuronal recycling’ maybe the reason for the bird’s reading ability.
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The theory tries to explain how humans developed the ability to read and write
However, there’s no evidence that would suggest that the pigeons were actually able to decipher meanings to the words they recognised, as the humans do.
The research was published in the journal, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
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