Baboons can identify words but can’t read, according to a new French study. The researchers used a computer program to teach the animals how to distinguish random letter jumbles from actual words.
From the LA Times:
Six baboons were permitted to approach computer monitors whenever they wanted. The touch screens displayed a string of four letters, which could be a word or a non-word.
(The scientists) trained the baboons to touch the letters to initiate the test. In the next step, the letters would vanish and two response symbols would appear on the screen, either of which the baboon could opt to touch. A light blue oval on the right was the correct response for a real word, and a dark blue cross on the left was correct for a nonsense string of letters.
The baboons got a wheat reward if they pressed the correct symbol.
One particularly bright baboon, Dan, was able to pick out 300 words.
In semi-related news, Maclean’s Kate Lunau wrote about iPad loving apes in Milwaukee in the magazine in February:
Milwaukee’s project has been such a hit that zoos across North America, including Toronto, are clamouring to get some. “We’ve got about 20 zoos waiting,” says Richard Zimmerman, director of the non-proﬁt Orangutan Outreach, which is running a campaign called Apps for Apes that aims to get more tablet computers to zoos. Eventually orangutans in different zoos will be able to visit each other via Skype or FaceTime—maybe even start Internet dating. “Orangutans have to move zoos for mating,” says York University’s Suzanne MacDonald, who studies animal behaviour and cognition. “It would be really cool if they could meet over the Internet ﬁrst and see if they got along, or if they’re terriﬁed of each other.”