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Study turns pigeons into ‘art critics’

You can have an eye for art, or, you can have a bird’s eye view of something.

But both at the same time?

A Japanese researcher is reporting that he has trained pigeons to tell apart ‘good’ and ‘bad’ children’s paintings, in the process making judgments that largely agree with those of hu­man viewers.

Can animals make artistic judgments? A researcher claims to have trained pigeons to tell apart ‘good’ and ‘bad’ children’s paintings Whether the birds are weighing the works based on artistic merit, or on some other characteristic or cue, may not be fully ascertainable.

“But somehow, the avians could distinguish between pictures previously rated as good or bad by adults, according to psychologist Shigeru Watanabe of Keio University in Tokyo.

Perhaps pigeons can “learn the concept of ‘beauty’ as defined by humans,” wrote Watanabe in the study, published in the June 16 issue of the research journal Animal Cognition.

Watanabe first asked a group of adults to judge several children’s paintings. Sophisticated evaluations weren’t requested: the viewers were simply asked to rate the works as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ - that is, beautiful or ugly.

Later, pigeons were trained, through dispensation of treats, to peck at ‘good’ paintings.

Pecking at ‘bad’ ones would net them no reward.

After some training, pigeons were shown new pictures “of both ‘good’ and ‘bad’ children’s paintings to test whether they had successfully learned to discriminate” between the two, Watanabe wrote. They had, he found.

Pigeons continued to perform relatively well at the task when presented with reduced size reproductions, he added.

They got worse at it when the pictures were converted into black and white reproductions or reproduced with a mosaic effect applied.

“The results suggest that the pigeons used both colour and pattern cues for the discrimination and show that nonhuman animals, such as pigeons, can be trained to discriminate abstract visual stimuli,” he wrote.

- World Science


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