A science paper
, which details several years of research, suggests that baboons can distinguish four-letter English words from non-words. The visual understanding of letters and the way that the letters are positioned is considered to be one of the steps of the 'reading' process and is akin to the way that children learn to read. Scientifically this is known as orthographic processing
According to Science Mag
, the basis of the study was that over a six-week period, scientists trained six baboons (Papio papio
) to discriminate randomly selected four-letter English words, like “wasp” and “kite,” from artificially generated four-letter non-words, like “stod.” Words and non-words were presented in 100-word trials on a computer screen, and baboons received a treat for identifying a word (pressing an oval) or a non-word (pressing a cross). One baboon was able to discriminate 308 words from 7,832 non-words with about 75% accuracy.
It could have been argued that the baboons were simply memorizing which four letter sequences were words and which were not and were surprisingly lucky. However, after the initial learning phase the baboons were presented with new words for the first time,. Here they labeled it a word far more often than they labeled a non-word a word.
The research was a joint study between the National Center for Scientific Research and Université d’Aix-Marseille in France, and was lead by Jonathan Grainger
, Directeur de recherche au CNRS at the Université d'Aix-Marseille.
The implication of the research may indicate that the ability to read may not be something learned but based on an innate ability within humans, and something which could be shared with other primates.
The paper was published in the journal Science
. The reference is:
J. Grainger, et al., “Orthographic processing in baboons (Papio papio),” Science, 336:245-8, 2012.