Science: Pigeon Talk

A triumph for bird brains

Until a few years ago, humans could feel fairly smug about what was thought to be their unique ability to communicate with one another by using spoken language or symbols. Then psychologists at the Yerkes Regional Primate Research Center in Atlanta taught two chimps named Austin and Sherman to "converse" by pushing buttons that displayed various symbols. For probably the first time, two animals were communicating by means other than their usual repertory of gestures, grunts and squeals.

It seemed like an extraordinary display of chimp intelligence, but retired Harvard Psychologist B.F. Skinner was certain that creatures much...

Want the full story?

Subscribe Now


Get TIME the way you want it

  • One Week Digital Pass — $4.99
  • Monthly Pay-As-You-Go DIGITAL ACCESS$2.99
  • One Year ALL ACCESSJust $30!   Best Deal!
    Print Magazine + Digital Edition + Subscriber-only Content on

Learn more about the benefits of being a TIME subscriber

If you are already a subscriber sign up — registration is free!