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Annu Rev Psychol. 2003;54:145-73. Epub 2002 Jun 10.

Signalers and receivers in animal communication.

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  • 1Department of Psychology, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19104, USA.


In animal communication natural selection favors callers who vocalize to affect the behavior of listeners and listeners who acquire information from vocalizations, using this information to represent their environment. The acquisition of information in the wild is similar to the learning that occurs in laboratory conditioning experiments. It also has some parallels with language. The dichotomous view that animal signals must be either referential or emotional is false, because they can easily be both: The mechanisms that cause a signaler to vocalize do not limit a listener's ability to extract information from the call. The inability of most animals to recognize the mental states of others distinguishes animal communication most clearly from human language. Whereas signalers may vocalize to change a listener's behavior, they do not call to inform others. Listeners acquire information from signalers who do not, in the human sense, intend to provide it.

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