Baboons that can Read

Baboons that can Read


By Kate Marchant


A recent study explains how six Guinea baboons were taught to recognise real four-letter words in amongst non-words.

Dan, the highest-scoring baboon, managed to find a huge 308 real words from a sea of nearly 8000 made-up words, and all six baboons averaged at a 75% success rate.

To conduct the study, scientists at Aix-Marseille University set up nine booths with touch-screen computers in the baboons’ enclosure, which they could enter whenever they wanted.

When a real English word appeared, the baboon touched an oval on the screen, and a plus sign for a non-word. When they responded correctly, they received a reward.

To ensure they were not learning which words were real and which weren’t, they were regularly shown new words that they’d never seen before, and still had a 70% success rate.

The study was primarily intended to explore how human beings learn to read. Although many scientists suggest that language is an essential part of learning to read, this study suggests that learning to read can occur without language.

The researchers explained that this ability to distinguish between words was learned through "the statistical properties that distinguish words from non-words," said Grainger, meaning they learnt that some letters are likely to appear together, such as "sl" and "dr" for example.

Although these findings are remarkable, scientists have explained of the study that the monkeys have only learnt how the words should look, not the meanings behind them which is a fundamental part of human beings learning to read.