Baboon 'Readers' Pick Out Real Words

Points to instincts behind reading
By Matt Cantor,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 13, 2012 11:59 AM CDT
Baboon 'Readers' Pick Out Real Words
Dora the baboon during a reading experiment.   (AP Photo/Joel Fagot)

Don't expect him to pick up a novel anytime soon—but Dan the baboon and five buddies know real English words when they see them. For instance, if Dan sees the letters BRRU, ITCS, and KITE, he'll pick out the last one as the real word, even though he doesn't know what it means, the AP reports. After doing 300,000 tests in France, the animals were able to pick out real words some 75% of the time.

The primates process the words by separating them into parts, a researcher says. They learned, for example, that SH is a legitimate construction, whereas FX isn't. This way of thinking helped them identify words they'd never seen before. What's more, they did the study when they felt like it: If they wanted a reward, they could head to a training station at any time. Not only does the experiment show "amazing cognitive abilities" among baboons, says a scientist—it also points to an innate sense of pattern that may exist in humans, too. (Read more baboon stories.)

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