|This undated handout photo provided by of Joel Fagot, and the journal Science shows Dora during a readng experiment. French researchers are showing that baboons can do what is essentially the first step in reading. They can identify recurring patterns in English. This study is important in two fields: it shows that the early steps in reading are far more instinctual than scientists first thought and it also demonstrates that non-human primates may be smarter than we give them credit for. Baboons and other monkeys are good pattern finders and it's more than memorization. What they are doing may be what we first do in recognizing words. But it's still a far cry from real reading. The study is in the journal Science. Image: AP Photo/Joel Fagot|
He pauses and hits a green oval to show it's a word. In the space of just a few seconds, Dan has demonstrated a mastery of what some experts say is a form of pre-reading and walks away rewarded with a treat of dried wheat.
Dan is part of new research that shows baboons are able to pick up the first step in reading - identifying recurring patterns and determining which four-letter combinations are words and which are just gobbledygook.
The study shows that reading's early steps are far more instinctive than scientists first thought and it also indicates that non-human primates may be smarter than we give them credit for.
"They've got the hang of this thing," says Jonathan Grainger, a French scientist and lead author of the research.
Baboons and other monkeys are good pattern finders and what they are doing may be what we first do in recognizing words.
It's still a far cry from real reading. They don't understand what these words mean, and are just breaking them down into parts, says Grainger, a cognitive psychologist at the Aix-Marseille Univ. in France.
In 300,000 tests, the six baboons distinguished between real and fake words about three-out-of-four times, according to the study published in Thursday's journal Science.
The 4-year-old Dan, the star of the bunch and about the equivalent age of a human teenager, got 80 percent of the words right and learned 308 four-letter words.