Baboons can be trained to recognise the difference between nonsense letters and actual words, according to a research by the Aix-Marseille University.
French researchers found baboons could easily recognise the actual words, even though it couldn't read. They believe that the ability to recognise words is related to object identification than spoken language skills.
"We're actually reading words much like we identify any kind of visual object, like we identify chairs and tables," Science Journal quoted Jonathan Grainger, a cognitive psychologist at France's National Center for Scientific Research and Aix-Marseille University in Marseille, as saying.
Earlier, several researchers had suggested that readers first need to have familiarity with spoken language, so they can connect sounds with the letters they see. To test the theory, researchers conducted an experiment on a group of baboons.
They installed a unique testing chamber in the baboons play area. The baboons can enter the testing chamber at will. They were allowed to perform trials as long as they wish on four touch screen computers that the chamber had.
Four letter actual words such as DONE, LAND and nonsense letters like DRAN, LONS were displayed on the touch screen computer. The baboons had to correctly touch oval sign for actual words and cross sign for non sense words. For every right answer the baboon earned a treat from the automated computer system.
Each baboon completed between 40,000 and 60,000 trials over the course of a month and a half.
And surprisingly they learnt the difference between non sense words and actual words, without knowing the spoken language.
"This suggests this has to be linked to some kind of ancient ability that's not linguistic at all, but just related to a fundamental ability to recognize objects," said Grainger.
According to the researchers, spoken language is extremely important for humans who are learning to read, but the performance of nonspeaking baboons also highlights the importance of the visual aspects of reading.
"One of the projects we're particularly interested in trying out very soon is getting baboons to associate words with some kind of meaning and it is going to be extremely complex," said Grainger in an article published by the Science journal.