Some very interesting new research has uncovered something remarkable about pigeons. Apparently, they can learn much like a human.
“The research shows the mechanisms by which children learn words might not be unique to humans,” comments study author Bob McMurray, of the University of Iowa. “Children are confronted with an immense task of learning thousands of words without a lot of background knowledge to go on. For a long time, people thought that such learning is special to humans.”
McMurray goes on to say, “What this research shows is that the mechanisms by which children solve this huge problem may be mechanisms that are shared with many species.”
Obviously, a pigeon does not have the same capacity for information as a human, but the study suggest that they have, at least, comparable capacity for learning.
“It is certainly no simple task to investigate animal cognition; but, as our methods have improved, so too have our understanding and appreciation of animal intelligence,” explains study author Ed Wasserman, of the University of Iowa. “Differences between humans and animals must indeed exist, many are already known. But, they may be outnumbered by similarities. Our research on categorization in pigeons suggests that those similarities may even extend to how children learn words,”
He presents hypotheticals: “Would children learn faster than pigeons? Almost certainly; However, our pigeons came to the experiment with literally no background knowledge. They did not understand the nature of the ‘task’ they had not encountered these categories before, and they had empty lexicons.”
“Children, on the other hand, bring all of these things to bear on the problem of learning words,” he says. “Thus, the more relevant comparison group may be newborn infants, who indeed take 6 to 9 months to learn their first words.”
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