Humans possess the ability to read words even when the interior letters are jumbled, as long as the letters on the boundary of each word remain the same. This is because the positions of letters in most languages are consistent. You know that the words “raed” and “tihs” in the title of this article are not real, because you know how to spell and have used the English language for most of your life. Researchers wanted to see if they could teach baboons to do the same thing.
The scientists conducting this study wanted to see if baboons could tell the difference between real words and jumbled letters. Six baboons were trained to distinguish four-letter English words from strings of letters containing three consonants and one vowel. The baboons were rewarded when they would touch an oval button for real words and a cross when they were nonsense letters. This was not just an example of the baboons learning a memory game to match certain patterns to ovals or crosses. The researchers found that the longer the baboons had used the training program the faster they could differentiate real from fake words. The mistakes would increase based on the similarity of fake words to real ones.
Researchers postulate that the baboons would treat syllables like components of visual objects like the handle of a coffee mug. Letters are part of the word just as the handle is a part of the mug, so we may just be mimicking the way that we identify visual objects rather than through the sounds that syllables make.
Michael Thomas (3)