Pigeons trained to recognize bad art

Joshua Foer is a guest blogger on Boing Boing. Joshua is a freelance science journalist and the co-founder of the Atlas Obscura: A Compendium of the World's Wonders, Curiosities, and Esoterica, with Dylan Thuras.

In 1995, the Japanese psychologist Shigeru Watanabe made a splash when he proved that pigeons could be trained to differentiate between paintings by Monet and Picasso. Now he has taught them to recognize the difference between good and bad art. New Scientist reports:

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.

Watanabe's paper, "Pigeons can discriminate 'good' and 'bad' paintings by children," is published in the latest issue of Animal Cognition.

Now, if only pigeons could be taught to pilot missiles.