Pigeons Interpret Beauty In Same Way As Humans

A new Japanese study finds that pigeons have “advanced perceptive abilities” which allow them to recognize beauty in the same way humans do.

The month-long, government-funded study found that the birds were able to differentiate “good” paintings from “bad” ones.

The research team from Tokyo’s Keio University had conducted a previous study that found the birds were able to distinguish between a Picasso and a Monet.  In the current study, they wanted to see whether the pigeons actually had a preference for one over the other. 

They obtained paintings by elementary school children and selected those that teachers and a control group of other adults deemed to be “good” and “bad”.  Next they displayed the images on a screen to the birds, rewarding them with food whenever they selected the “good” paintings. 

The pictures included a wide variety of watercolors, pastels, still lives and landscapes, all of which were judged on their artistic merit, such as how clear and discernible the images were.

Professor Shigeru Watanabe of Keio’s Faculty of Letters and Graduate School of Human Resources said the pigeons learned to peck at only the “good” paintings. They even responded appropriately to images they had not seen before, Watanabe told the AFP.

However, in a report about the research, Keio University explained that the study “did not deal with advanced artistic judgments.”

“But it did indicate that pigeons are able to learn to distinguish ‘good’ or ‘beautiful’ paintings the way an ordinary human being can,” the report said.

The findings of Keio University’s Centre of Advanced Research on Logic and Sensibility will be published in the journal Animal Cognition.

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