Even birds can do it

September 14, 2009

Here’s what happened. Shigeru Watanabe (a psychologist at Keio University in Tokyo and possibly a man in league with the birds) set up a nefarious experiment. Watanabe showed children’s paintings to pigeons; a panel of adults had deemed each work either good or bad. He trained the pigeons to distinguish between them with a system of tasty rewards. When the pigeons pecked correctly, he gave them some seed. Later, he presented 10 paintings to the birds they had never seen. Five of these paintings had been deemed good by humans, five bad. The pigeons recognized the good paintings as “good” twice as often as they recognized the “bad” paintings. In short, they came off as pretty good critics. There are those (names withheld) writing for major publications who might do markedly less well. Given these results, Watanabe claims, “pigeons are capable of learning the concept of a stimulus class that humans name ‘good’ pictures.”


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