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Baboons show their word skills

Reading may stem from a visual aptitude shared by all primates

By
2:28pm, April 12, 2012

Baboons hang out in the bush, not in bookstores. Yet these avid nonreaders can learn to tell written, real words from nonsense words, a new study finds.

That surprising achievement is not the same as reading, say psychologist Jonathan Grainger of the University of Aix-Marseille in France and his colleagues: Baboons tested in the new study didn’t attach meanings to words. Critically, though, these animals demonstrated that the roots of deciphering alphabetic script lie in brain functions that have nothing to do with language, Grainger’s team reports in the April 13 Science.

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