Bonobo Babies Talk Like Human Babies

Posted: Aug 4 2015, 1:32pm CDT | by , in Report | Latest Science News

Bonobo Babies talk like Human Babies
This is an image of wild bonobos. Photo Credit: Zanna Clay/Lui Kotale Bonobo Project

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New research says that Bonobo babies use the same communication method as human babies.

Researchers have found that wild bonobos, our closest living relatives in the primate world, talk like human babies. They are using a high-pitched call type, or 'peep', that requires context to be understood.

The finding that bonobos use a type of call, that alters meaning depending on context, echoes the context independent manner in which human babies can also communicate.

Bonobos make 'peep' calls which are short, very high-pitched and produced with a closed mouth.

They produce these calls in a wide range of situations, across positive, negative and neutral circumstances.

The researchers looked at the acoustic structure and found that the peep calls did not vary acoustically between neutral and positive contexts - for example, between feeding, traveling and resting.

It is this similarity in calls made across different emotional contexts that echo the similarities found in human infant vocalizations.

Dr Zanna Clay, from the University of Birmingham's School of Psychology, who led the study, said: "When I studied the bonobos in their native setting in Congo, I was struck by how frequent their peeps were, and how many different contexts they produce them in. It became apparent that because we couldn't always differentiate between peeps, we needed understand the context to get to the root of their communication."

The common assumption is that primate calls are tightly tied to certain contexts and emotional states, whereas many human vocalizations are freed from this.

However, before language develops, human babies can produce a group of calls- called 'protophones'- independently of their emotional state.

These types of infant calls differ from commonly recognized calls such as laughter and crying, and the calls of most animals, which are thought only to be produced in certain contexts.

Dr Clay added, "We felt that it was premature to conclude that this ability is uniquely human, especially as nobody had really looked for it in the great apes. It appears that the more we look, the more similarity we find between animals and humans."

The research, published in the journal PeerJ, also found that the peeps made in emotionally negative circumstances, such as an aggressive encounter, or in response to predators, demonstrate a pattern more typical to primates in that the acoustic structure is more closely tied to certain emotional states.

This new research falls into line with many other research reports showing that animals are not that different from humans.

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<a href="/latest_stories/all/all/2" rel="author">Luigi Lugmayr</a>
Luigi Lugmayr () is the founding chief Editor of I4U News and brings over 15 years experience in the technology field to the ever evolving and exciting world of gadgets. He started I4U News back in 2000 and evolved it into vibrant technology magazine.
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