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Referents and semantics in animal vocalizations


Manser, Marta B (2016). Referents and semantics in animal vocalizations. In: Bee, Mark A; Miller, Cory T. Psychological Mechanisms in Animal Communication. Heidelberg: Springer, 223-249.

Abstract

Animal communication is based on signals that provide information to receivers regarding specific aspects of the environment and individual traits of the signaler. Many animals produce acoustically different call types depending on the different behaviors or general contexts they experience. The acoustic structure within a call type typically varies and conveys socially relevant information specific to individual identity, sex, age, social rank, relatedness, or group membership. Both specific referents to the context and referents to individual and group signatures enable receivers to extract diverse information and to incorporate it into their decisions at different levels of complexity in social interactions. From the production side, it is difficult to prove what cognitive mechanisms underlie the emission of specific call types, but recent empirical studies support the fact that it cannot be based on simple emotional expressions. More likely, multiple information processes are involved that integrate the individual traits and an animal’s perceptions of different referents, the overall context, or other external stimuli, to produce the final acoustic outcome. Research on the cognitive mechanisms that underlie the perception of different types of referents reveals that on the receiver side, information use likely has both innate and learned components. As such, in all cases, a cognitive representation of the eliciting stimuli expressed by the specific call structure is likely learned by receivers based on simple association of the signal’s acoustic structure and the context or the individual traits of the signaler. In the case of functionally referential signals, referents to external stimuli seem to play an influential role in affecting the response of receivers, allowing less flexibility to integrate additional information, compared to other, less context-specific calls, due to the urgency of responding. The different referents in a call should generally reflect the social and ecological constraints a species experiences.

Abstract

Animal communication is based on signals that provide information to receivers regarding specific aspects of the environment and individual traits of the signaler. Many animals produce acoustically different call types depending on the different behaviors or general contexts they experience. The acoustic structure within a call type typically varies and conveys socially relevant information specific to individual identity, sex, age, social rank, relatedness, or group membership. Both specific referents to the context and referents to individual and group signatures enable receivers to extract diverse information and to incorporate it into their decisions at different levels of complexity in social interactions. From the production side, it is difficult to prove what cognitive mechanisms underlie the emission of specific call types, but recent empirical studies support the fact that it cannot be based on simple emotional expressions. More likely, multiple information processes are involved that integrate the individual traits and an animal’s perceptions of different referents, the overall context, or other external stimuli, to produce the final acoustic outcome. Research on the cognitive mechanisms that underlie the perception of different types of referents reveals that on the receiver side, information use likely has both innate and learned components. As such, in all cases, a cognitive representation of the eliciting stimuli expressed by the specific call structure is likely learned by receivers based on simple association of the signal’s acoustic structure and the context or the individual traits of the signaler. In the case of functionally referential signals, referents to external stimuli seem to play an influential role in affecting the response of receivers, allowing less flexibility to integrate additional information, compared to other, less context-specific calls, due to the urgency of responding. The different referents in a call should generally reflect the social and ecological constraints a species experiences.

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Additional indexing

Item Type:Book Section, not refereed, further contribution
Communities & Collections:07 Faculty of Science > Institute of Evolutionary Biology and Environmental Studies
Dewey Decimal Classification:570 Life sciences; biology
590 Animals (Zoology)
Language:English
Date:2016
Deposited On:13 Feb 2017 07:50
Last Modified:13 Feb 2017 08:06
Publisher:Springer
Series Name:Animal Signals and Communication
Number:5
ISSN:2197-7305
ISBN:978-3-319-48688-8
Funders:University of Zurich
Publisher DOI:https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-48690-1_8

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