[Date Prev][Date Next][Thread Prev][Thread Next][Date Index][Thread Index]
[xmca] Baboons and Phonics
Phonics enthusiasts and other baboons should take a look at the latest issue of Science.
If you look on the right hand corner, you will see, in "psychology", the enticing headline "Baboons Learn to Read", and a link to the following article (unfortunately, it's pay per view): .
The article title is "Orthographic Processing in Baboons". Of course, both titles are gross misnomers.
What happened was that six baboons were put in a cage and given computers to play with. Say you are a baboon. You get a four letter combination like:
And then you push a button: GREEN for "I think this is a word" and BLUE for "I think this is not a word".
You push the blue button. Nothing happens. Then you see this:
If you push the GREEN button, then you get a treat (something made of baked wheat--baboons are easy to please!). This may seem like a 'Clever Hans' phenomenon, but it's actually very similar to a widely used test of vocabulary size called the YES-NO test used by, among others, Paul Meara in Wales.
You've got 500 real words, but over seven THOUSAND nonsense combinations. So the real test is how many of the real words can you get right. And it turns out that in 300,000 trials--the baboons can play the game any time they want, and some of them play three thousand times a day, while others only do it about four hundred times a day--the baboons learn to recognize about three quarters of the real words. One baboon can recognize real words about 80% of the time.
Of course, despite the headline, it isn't reading. It's not even orthographic processing. In fact, it's not a cultural function at all; it's a purely naturalistic form of visual processing absolutely no different from the Clever Hans phenomenon that Carl Stumpf investigated in a circus horse in the nineteenth century.
But it is an example of phonics! That is, the baboons are learning to recognize particular sequences of graphemes regardless of context and regardless of meaning.
Baboons--meet phonics--the twenty-first century version of "Clever Hans"!
xmca mailing list