There is a similarity between how pigeons learn the equivalent of words the way children do, the findings showed."The research shows the mechanisms by which children learn words might not be unique to humans," said one of the study authors Bob McMurray from the University of Iowa.

In the study, the researchers found that pigeons can categorise and name both natural and man made objects.These birds categorised 128 photographs into 16 groups, and they did so simultaneously.

"Differences between humans and animals must indeed exist, many are already known. But, they may be outnumbered by similarities. Our research on categorisation in pigeons suggests that those similarities may even extend to how children learn words," said corresponding author of the study Ed Wasserman from University of Iowa.

The researchers used a computerised version of the "name game" in which three pigeons were shown 128 black-and-white photos of objects from 16 basic categories: baby, bottle, cake, car, cracker, dog, duck, fish, flower, hat, key, pen, phone, plan, shoe and tree.

The pigeons learned to correctly categorise the photos into separate groups.The experiment represents the first purely associative animal model that captures an essential ingredient of word learning -- the many-to-many mapping between stimuli and responses, the researchers noted.

Among their many talents, pigeons have a "homing instinct" that helps them find their way home from hundreds of miles away, even when blindfolded. They carried messages for the US Army during World Wars, saving lives and providing vital strategic information, the study pointed out.

The study appeared in the journal Cognition.


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