Science News
from research organizations

Young Meerkats Learn The Emotion Before The Message In Threat Calls

Date:
May 28, 2007
Source:
University of Chicago Press Journals
Summary:
Human speech provides simultaneous information about a person's emotions and objects in the environment. Past research has shown that animal vocalizations can do the same, but little is known about the development of the features that encode such information. Observing wild, but habituated, meerkats (Suricata suricatta) in the Kalahari Desert, researchers have shown that a youngster's understanding about the urgency of a threatening situation develops earlier than their understanding about the type of threat faced.
Share:
FULL STORY

Suricate or meerkat (Suricata suricatta) family, Kalahari, South Africa.
Credit: iStockphoto/Nico Smit

It is well known that human speech can provide listeners with simultaneous information about a person's emotions and objects in the environment. Past research has shown that animal vocalizations can do the same, but little is known about the development of the features that encode such information.

Observing wild, but habituated, meerkats (Suricata suricatta) in the Kalahari Desert, researchers from the University of Zürich have shown that a youngster's understanding about the urgency of a threatening situation develops earlier than their understanding about the type of threat faced (in the June issue of The American Naturalist).

Meerkat alarm calls are previously known to encode information about both the type of approaching predator (for example, eagle or jackal) and the urgency of the threat (for example, close or far). This information enables listeners to adjust their response to the particular threat and to decide whether to respond immediately. Dr. Linda Hollén and Prof. Marta Manser have now established how these processes develop in young animals.

By analyzing alarm calls from both young and adult individuals, which they recorded while walking within a few feet of the animals, the researchers found that the link between acoustic features and threat urgency develops earlier in life than the link between acoustic features and threat type. They argue that this suggests a more basic, hard-wired link between acoustics and "emotion" than the link between acoustics and external objects. "This would parallel the developmental pattern in young children," says Dr. Hollén.

Articles: Linda I. Hollén and Marta B. Manser (Universität Zürich), "Motivation before meaning: motivational information encoded in meerkat alarm calls develops earlier than referential information" American Naturalist (2007), 169:758--767, DOI: 10.1086/516719


Story Source:

Materials provided by University of Chicago Press Journals. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.


Cite This Page:

University of Chicago Press Journals. "Young Meerkats Learn The Emotion Before The Message In Threat Calls." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 28 May 2007. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/05/070523103825.htm>.
University of Chicago Press Journals. (2007, May 28). Young Meerkats Learn The Emotion Before The Message In Threat Calls. ScienceDaily. Retrieved May 23, 2017 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/05/070523103825.htm
University of Chicago Press Journals. "Young Meerkats Learn The Emotion Before The Message In Threat Calls." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/05/070523103825.htm (accessed May 23, 2017).

RELATED STORIES