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Claim: Pigeons can tell words from gibberish


From Erica Tennenhouse at Discover Mag:

For their training, a computer screen would flash words like “DOWN” or “GAME”, and non-words like “TWOR” or “NELD”, along with a star symbol. Each time the pigeons made a correct identification — pecking the word if it was a real one, or pecking the star symbol beneath a non-word — they were rewarded with a portion of wheat.

After the pigeons built up decent vocabularies (the star pupil acquired 58 words), the screen began flashing new words that they had never seen before. And even when faced with these novel words, the pigeons continued to pick out the real words from the non-words with impressive accuracy, according to a study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. More.

Actually, the pigeons can determine which combos get them wheat vs. which ones don’t, and only some combos (diagrams) are frequent in English. Getting wheat is a pigeon’s obligate lifetime occupation.

As noted earlier, if a dog had a syrinx like a parrot, he could tell you that he needed to go outside, in English. You and he would both entirely understand what he means. The trouble starts when you ask him about last night’s game or the upcoming election…

See also: Furry, feathery, and finny animals speak their minds


Does intelligence depend on a specific type of brain?

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