Jun
16
2008

Pigeons are smarter than babies. But then what isn’t?

Chill out kid: You're in the presence of great minds.
Chill out kid: You're in the presence of great minds.Courtesy Mario Sepulveda
Get your lists out, Buzzketeers.

No, get ‘em out!

Or, you know, just sit there with your lists put away. Good job. You’re good at that.

Those of you who care about science, and have your lists out, thank you. And you may now add pigeons>babies to your “What is smarter that what” list. About time, huh?

I understand that intelligence is a tricky thing to measure, and we should acknowledge that there are several things that babies can do better than pigeons. Crying, throwing up, and pooping, for instance, babies are clearly more skilled at. But when it comes to self-cognitive abilities—something long considered exclusive to primates and large-brained animals like dolphins and elephants—pigeons take the cake. They take it away from babies.

Researchers in Japan have shown that pigeons can discriminate video images of themselves with as much as a 5-7 second delay, while 3 year old children have difficulty recognizing themselves after only a 2 second delay. Pretty embarrassing for the earth’s toddlers, if you ask me—3 years is pretty old to have trouble recognizing Number One.

I don’t totally understand the methodology behind telling whether a pigeon (or a baby, for that matter) can recognize itself, but the article gave some other interesting/hilarious examples of self-cognition tests.

Similar test have been performed on chimps by drawing on their faces when they were sleeping (drugged). Upon waking, the chimps were given mirrors to see how they felt about their new decorations. This experiment is frequently carried out on drunk humans as well (I tried to find a good picture of this, but they all seem to include a drawing of…a particular body part).

Researchers at Harvard University have shown that pigeons can discriminate pictures of people, and a laboratory in Japan claims that they can even distinguish between the works of certain painters.

Pigeons were also shown to be able to tell the difference between birds given stimulant drugs and sober pigeons. No word as to whether they’ll be trying that particular experiment on babies.

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