A bird's eye view of art

Jun 30, 2009

Pigeons could be art critics yet, according to a new study which shows that like humans, pigeons can be trained to tell the difference between 'good' and 'bad' paintings. According to Professor Shigeru Watanabe from Keio University in Japan, pigeons use both color and pattern cues to judge the paintings' beauty as defined by humans, as well as their texture. Professor Watanabe's work has just been published online in Springer's journal, Animal Cognition.

The concept of beauty is based on two properties. Firstly, humans derive pleasure from viewing aesthetically pleasing art and experience from aesthetically unappealing art. Secondly, we can tell the difference between 'good' or beautiful paintings and 'bad' or ugly paintings and therefore form a concept of what is aesthetically pleasing. Professor Watanabe's research looks at pigeons' ability to distinguish between paintings based on their beauty; in other words, can they form a concept of beauty similar to that of humans, and if so, how do they do it?

A mixture of watercolor and pastel paintings by children from a school in Tokyo were classified by the school's art teacher and 10 other adults as either 'good' or 'bad'. Paintings were considered 'good' when the were clear and discernable, and viewers could see the specific characteristics of the subjects in the paintings. Pigeons from the Japanese Society for Racing Pigeons were placed in a chamber where they could see a computer monitor displaying the children's art.

In the first series of experiments, four pigeons were trained to recognize 'good' paintings by being rewarded with food if they pecked at the 'good' pictures. 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. Pigeons consistently pecked at the 'good' paintings more often than at the 'bad' paintings. When the paintings' sizes were reduced, the discriminated just as well between the two types of paintings. However, when they were presented with grayscale paintings, they were no longer able to distinguish between the paintings, indicating that they use color cues for discrimination. When the paintings were processed into mosaics, the pigeons also found it difficult to distinguish between the paintings, showing that they also use pattern cues to make their beauty judgments. Hiding part of the picture did not affect the pigeons' ability to tell the difference between paintings.

In the second series of experiments, Professor Watanabe looked at whether pigeons could discriminate between watercolor and pastel paintings. Eight new pigeons were trained to recognize the texture of paintings - four were trained to peck at watercolor paintings and four were trained to peck at pastel paintings. As in the previous experiment, when presented with a mixture of new and old paintings, pigeons used both color and shape cues to accurately discriminate between textures.

Taken together, these experiments suggest that humans and pigeons use similar visual cues to identify 'good' paintings and texture. Although there is a considerable difference in humans' and pigeons' brain architectures, they can function in similar ways to make complex visual discriminations.

Professor Watanabe concludes: "Artistic endeavors have been long thought to be limited to humans, but this experiment shows that, with training, pigeons are capable of distinguishing between 'good' and 'bad' paintings. This research does not deal with advanced artistic judgments, but it shows that pigeons are able to acquire the ability to judge beauty similar to that of humans."

More information: Watanabe S (2009). Pigeons can discriminate between 'good' and 'bad' paintings by children. ; DOI 10.1007/s10071-009-0246-8.

Source: Springer

Explore further: Offspring benefit from mum sending the right message

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Pigeons have eye for paintings: Japan study

Jun 25, 2009

Pigeons may sometimes appear to randomly target city sculptures with their droppings, but according to a new Japanese study they also have the potential to become discerning art critics.

Green pigment in old masters a myth

Mar 16, 2005

Old masters never used the green pigment copper resinate supposed to be present in their paintings. Dutch art historian Margriet van Eikema Hommes reached this conclusion on the basis of old paint recipes, investigations ...

New technology for dating ancient rock paintings

Mar 11, 2009

A new dating method finally is allowing archaeologists to incorporate rock paintings — some of the most mysterious and personalized remnants of ancient cultures — into the tapestry of evidence used to study life in prehistoric ...

New research finds people and pigeons see eye to eye

Feb 20, 2007

Pigeons and humans use similar visual cues to identify objects, a finding that could have promising implications in the development of novel technologies, according to new research conducted by a University ...

Recommended for you

Biologists help solve fungi mysteries

45 minutes ago

(Phys.org) —A new genetic analysis revealing the previously unknown biodiversity and distribution of thousands of fungi in North America might also reveal a previously underappreciated contributor to climate ...

More vets turn to prosthetics to help legless pets

4 hours ago

A 9-month-old boxer pup named Duncan barreled down a beach in Oregon, running full tilt on soft sand into YouTube history and showing more than 4 million viewers that he can revel in a good romp despite lacking ...

Chimpanzees prefer firm, stable beds

13 hours ago

Chimpanzees may select a certain type of wood, Ugandan Ironwood, over other options for its firm, stable, and resilient properties to make their bed, according to a study published April 16, 2014 in the open-access ...

User comments : 0

More news stories

Biologists help solve fungi mysteries

(Phys.org) —A new genetic analysis revealing the previously unknown biodiversity and distribution of thousands of fungi in North America might also reveal a previously underappreciated contributor to climate ...

More vets turn to prosthetics to help legless pets

A 9-month-old boxer pup named Duncan barreled down a beach in Oregon, running full tilt on soft sand into YouTube history and showing more than 4 million viewers that he can revel in a good romp despite lacking ...

Robotics goes micro-scale

(Phys.org) —The development of light-driven 'micro-robots' that can autonomously investigate and manipulate the nano-scale environment in a microscope comes a step closer, thanks to new research from the ...