A new study said that monkey’s do not assign a meaning to written words, but rather learn what combinations of letters are common to words. Baboons are not able to speak, read and most likely do not understand language. However, scientists found that the baboon could learn to identify writing that appears on a computer screen.
The recent discovery might help to explain how humans learned how to read, said researchers. A cognitive psychologist Jonathan Grainger, the lead author of the study said, “We may use letters to read certain words because we mimic what we do with common objects.”
Grainger’s work often times focuses on human primates. His guinea pigs are usually his university students, whom he studies in order to ascertain the rudimentary processes individuals use to decipher individual words.
In this study however, Grainger used baboons to see if without linguistic capacity the animal could recognized individual words. The co-author of the study, Joel Fagot, operates a research facility that has 30 baboons and provided Grainger with the ideal setting.
The study used six baboons that were able to approach computer screens at whatever time they wanted. Each computer touch screen displayed a list of four letters; each list of four was either a non-word or a word.
The baboons were trained to touch each letter to start the test. Following that, the letters would then vanish and two symptoms asking a response would appear. The baboon could then decide which to choose. A reward was given to the animal if they chose the correct symbol.
The team of researchers reported that among the nearly 8,000 non-words the baboons were able to distinguish hundreds of words with nearly a 75% accuracy rating.