Baboons Impress Scientists with Word-Recognition Skills

A new study published in the journal Science this month shows that baboons are capable of recognizing words, a skill that’s typically only attributed to humans.

Baboons in the study were shown a variety of four letter words mixed with random sequences of four letters, when they recognized an actual word they would push a blue oval button on a computer screen, or a cross-shaped button for non-words. Whenever they identified a word correctly, they were rewarded with a treat, which was not their main food source.

Six baboons were used in the study and were allowed to walk up to the computer and take the test whenever they chose to.

“What’s really nice about it, there’s no stress associated with testing an animal and putting it into the testing area,” said Jonathan Grainger, a cognitive psychologist at the Aix-Marseille University in France and lead author of the study.

“These baboons are motivated. They are doing this because they want to. They do it just for fun.”

Grainger, who typically works with humans, wanted to test the theory that reading uses visual systems in the brain that are used to identify objects in order to learn whether animals without linguistics could learn to recognize words, since they don’t have speech capabilities comparable to humans who typically learn sounds first.

After 300,000 completed tests, the baboons chose real words an average of three out of four times, with one baboon named Dan learning 308 four-letter words. More interestingly, they learned through trial and error to recognize which patterns of letters were words and differentiate them from gibberish, even when seeing a new word for the first time.

“It’s not just memorizing,” said Grainger. “It’s picking up what we call these statistical regularities: Certain letter combinations appear more frequently in words than in non-words.”

Related Stories:

New App Would Help Apes Talk to Humans

Endangered Status Being Considered for Captive Chimps

Cargo Cruelty: Tell Airlines to Stop Shipping Primates for Research

Photo credit: Thinkstock

150 comments

Kathy Perez
Kathy Johnson3 years ago

amazing articles, but why can't we let animals be ANIMALS?!

Carrie Anne Brown

thanks for sharing

Eternal Gardener
Eternal Gardener4 years ago

Just like humans only they aren't degenerated!

Lynn C.
Lynn C.4 years ago

Human arrogance never ceases to amaze. We're now 'discovering intelligence' in other creatures. They've been smarter than we all along! It's the humans that were/are too dense with ego to get it!

Mark Donners
Mark Donner4 years ago

In the long term the human race won't survive..at the suicidal rate its going it's a guarantee that extinction will happen very soon but humans are not smart enough to think long term.. even microscopic life is smarter than human, building up the world's oxygen for 2 billion years, so that life could inhabit the land areas. In just 200 years humans have torn a delicate planetary balance of life to shreds. When humans have gone extinct by their own primitive hands..which will be very soon..they will take a lot of this abused earth with them. The chances are earth will survive, but it will take tens of millions of years for continental plates to shift and remove all trace of humanity's pollution, asphalt jungles and the rest of the devastation that humanity has caused to land and oceans. Humans are so arrogant and ignorant to think that by breeding to impossible numbers and having the ability for producing their useless "technology" (which is not impressive in the least, and which they use to destroy everything of value), somehow that will make them immortal. Unfortunately humanity's impending suicide from its own mind boggling stupidity and greed will not be a pleasant event. Suicide is traumatic whether it's done by an individual, a group or a race.

Adrianne P.
A P.4 years ago

What amazing animals!

KS Goh
KS Goh4 years ago

Thanks for the article.

Cindy B.
Cindy Black4 years ago

l cannot believe that "7%" answered "YES," primates should be used in biomedical research... when we KNOW animal studies are hideous, vile things and really not necessary any more... and this was attached to an article showing baboons are so smart they can even spell!
If I were a baboon, I would sure learn many "4-LETTER WORDS" and stridently apply them to those a-holes.

Estelita ATTI  GABRIE
Estelita atti4 years ago

THANKS.

Wiebe S.
Wiebe S.4 years ago

With our educational system being raped by the elite the baboons may soon be smarter than the average citizen.