Baboons can recognise words

Baboons have no linguistic skills, but they can spot printed words.

Over a period of 45 days, a team of scientists from the US and France studied a group of baboons living in a fenced-in area. The area had several computers with touch-sensitive screens and the baboons could use them whenever they wanted.

The screens displayed a four-letter sequence and the baboons had to tap on one of two shapes on the screen, depending on whether it was a real word or nonsense. If the animal gave the correct answer, it received a food treat. After the experiment, the primates learnt to discriminate dozens of English words from more than 7,000 non-words with nearly 75 per cent accuracy.

These results suggest that one of the most complex human skills — orthographic processing, the ability to recognize words as combination of objects that appear in a certain way — could be more common in the primate brain than previously thought.

Source: Eureka

A baboon from the study of Dr Grainger and colleagues. Image: J. Fagot


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