July 1, 2009

Pigeons can discern ‘good’ and ‘bad’ art

A Japanese study indicates pigeons can be trained to tell the difference between good and bad paintings.

Keio University Professor Shigeru Watanabe said his team discovered pigeons use color, texture and pattern cues to judge a paintings" beauty as defined by humans.

In the study, watercolor and pastel paintings by children were classified by an art teacher and 10 other adults as either good or bad. The paintings, the researchers said, were considered good when images were clear and discernible, and viewers could see the specific characteristics of subjects in the paintings.

Pigeons were put into a chamber where they could see a computer monitor displaying the children's art.

The pigeons were trained to recognize good paintings by being rewarded with food if they pecked at the good pictures, the scientists said. Pecking at bad pictures was not rewarded.

They were then presented with a mixture of new and old good and bad paintings and the researchers noted which paintings they pecked at. The scientists said the pigeons consistently pecked at the good paintings more often than the bad paintings.

Artistic endeavors have been long thought to be limited to humans, Watanabe said. But this experiment shows that, with training, pigeons are "¦ able to acquire the ability to judge beauty similar to that of humans.

The study appears online in the journal Animal Cognition.