Researchers recommend new approach to animal communication

Using methods used for human communication studies could give us a better understanding of how animals communicate to different audiences.

In a paper published in the Feb. 2017 issue of Animal Behaviour, researchers make an argument that animal communication should be approached the same way as human communication. Like humans, animals can adjust their communication for their audience, but scientists only have a basic understanding of how. Studies on animal audience effect up until this point have largely focused on rate and latency changes in signals (such as how fast a bird tweets or how quickly it signals about a predator), while studies on human audience effect focus on fine-grained changes in signals.

As stated in the article, “we argue that a commonly used method to study vocal sensitivity to audience in humans namely, an analysis of the fine acoustic structure of sounds could strengthen our ability to detect and interpret audience effects in nonhuman animals (hereafter, animals).”

By looking at the fine-grained analysis, researchers could answer a broader range of questions about audience effects for animals.

ASU-SFI Center postdoctoral fellow Elizabeth Hobson, one of the researchers on the study explained, “If we can find more evidence for that in animals, what I think is really exciting is that it can show us not just that the animal is responsive to the audience, but that it may be intentionally responsive. Then we can start to experiment to see how animals cognitively process audience composition and respond accordingly.”

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