Pigeons make the grade at art appreciation

时间:2019-03-08 09:05:01166网络整理admin

By Ewen Callaway Parents may praise their children’s artwork as if each piece were a da Vinci or a Rembrandt – but pigeons, new research suggests, are somewhat more discerning. Several birds have successfully learned to tell the difference between well-executed and crude paintings – all created by 9 to 11-year-olds at a Tokyo elementary school. No, the city hasn’t devised a plot to simultaneously rid its streets of pigeons and employ art teachers that work for peanuts – or, rather, grain. Instead, the experiments were set up to see if other animals, provided with enough training, could grasp the human concept of beauty, says Shigeru Watanabe, a psychologist at Keio University in Tokyo, who led the study. This isn’t Watanabe’s first efforts to teach art appreciation to pigeons. In 1995, he and two colleagues published a paper showing that pigeons could learn to discriminate Picasso paintings from Monets – work that earned him that year’s Ig Nobel prize. New Scientist plays no role in selecting winners, but Watanabe’s latest study make a strong case for another award. He trained four birds – on loan from the Japanese Society for Racing Pigeons – to appreciate children’s art by linking correct assessments of paintings with food. Works deemed good (see image) had earned As in art class, while bad paintings (see image) garnered Cs or Ds. Watanabe also put the paintings to a jury of 10 adults, and pigeons viewed only works unanimously declared good or bad by the panel. After a series of training sessions consisting of 22 paintings on average, Watanabe presented the birds with 10 paintings they hadn’t seen before: 5 bad, 5 good. The birds had been trained to peck at a button for good paintings and do nothing in response to bad works. With never-seen works, pigeons picked good paintings twice as often as bad paintings, a statistically significant difference. However, their accuracy dropped off significantly if Watanabe presented pictures in greyscale or those modified to be highly pixelated, suggesting that colour and detail helped pigeons discern the paintings. The size of the painting, on the other hand, made no difference. In separate experiments, Watanabe found that pigeons could also learn to distinguish between pastel paintings and watercolours, suggesting that texture is another important cue for the birds. But does this mean that humans and pigeons have a similar sense of aesthetics? Not quite, Watanabe says. “The experiments demonstrated the ability of discrimination, not the ability to enjoy painting.” Journal reference: Animal Cognition (DOI: