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Study: Baboons can recognize short words

April 12, 2012 at 8:49 PM

PARIS, April 12 (UPI) -- Baboons can reliably recognize short printed words in experiments, doing what is essentially the first step in reading, French researchers say.

The baboons are identifying recurring patterns -- in English -- one of the keys to human reading, researchers at France's National Centre for Scientific Research said.

But that doesn't mean they'll soon be settling down with the latest best-seller, they said

"The baboons aren't reading; they don't attach any meaning to the words other than recognizing shapes," study leader Jonathan Grainger, a psychologist, said.

"But the point is they can recognize the right ones, and ones close to the right ones."

Six baboons were trained to distinguish a few dozen four-letter words from about 7,800 non-words with about 75 percent accuracy, USA Today reported Thursday.

Even seeing a word for the first time, the baboons, once trained, were more likely to recognize it as a word, preferring them over the nonsense ones, the researchers said.

"The really striking result is that baboons could distinguish, in a statistical sense, not only words from non-words but [they]) saw them the way that human English readers do as well," said neuroscientist Charles Connor of the Mind-Brain Institute at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, who was not involved in the study.

"We're seeing reading-like vision processes can occur in a species without language, and that is really surprising."

The study has been published in the journal Science.

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