Pigeons Recognize Selves--and Great Art

Investigation into intelligence

10-01-2008 // Hannah Schardt

IS A PIGEON smarter than a 3-year-old? Probably not. But new research finds that the common birds outperform toddlers on tests of self-recognition. In the study, researchers at Japan's Keio University and Tsukuba University trained pigeons to discriminate live video images of themselves from previously recorded images. The pigeons then learned to differentiate between the two recordings even when the first video was no longer live, but rather delayed by five to seven seconds. In other words, the birds were able to remember their own movements enough to identify the birds on the screen as themselves, even after the delay. Three-year-old humans, on the other hand, have difficulty passing the same test after only a two-second delay. Perhaps even more impressive--at least to those of us without a degree in art history--the pigeons were also able to discriminate paintings of one artist from those of another artist.

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