Pigeons Distinguish Cancerous From Normal Breast Tissue, At A Rate Similar To Trained Radiologists

One Very Brainy Bird: Study Finds Pigeons Uncommonly Good At Distinguishing Cancerous From Normal Breast Tissue, University of Iowa, 18 November 2015

With some training and selective food reinforcement, pigeons performed as well as humans in categorizing digitized slides and mammograms of benign and malignant human breast tissue.

The pigeons performed virtually as well on images that they had never been shown before, indicating that they had, in an extremely narrow sense, learned pathology.

They got it right 85-90% of the time!

Here’s the study:

Pigeons (Columba livia) as Trainable Observers of Pathology and Radiology Breast Cancer Images, PLOS One, 18 November 2015

And some samples they showed the pigeons, at increasing magnifications. I can’t.


Although a pigeon’s brain is no bigger than the tip of an index finger, it turns out that the neural pathways involved, including the basal ganglia and cortical-striatal synapses, operate in ways very similar to those at work in the human brain.

“Research over the past 50 years has shown that pigeons can distinguish identities and emotional expressions on human faces, letters of the alphabet, misshapen pharmaceutical capsules, and even paintings by Monet vs. Picasso,” Wasserman says. “Their visual memory is equally impressive, with a proven recall of more than 1,800 images.”

Humans must look like lumbering fools to them.

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