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Proc Meet Acoust. 2013;19. doi: 10.1121/1.4799257.

Vocal modifications in primates: Effects of noise and behavioral context on vocalization structure.


During increased noise, modifications of the acoustic structure of vocalizations (amplitude, temporal, and spectral parameters) may allow release from masking, potentially conferring fitness benefits to vocally flexible signalers. Among primates, humans have demonstrated extreme vocal flexibility during noise, with modifications to all three speech parameters affected by both noise type and motivational state of the signaler. While non-human primates have also demonstrated changes to call amplitude and temporal characteristics, to the best of our knowledge spectral modifications have not been observed and the influence of behavioral context remains unknown. This experiment used playbacks of broad (10 kHz) and narrowband (5 kHz) white noise to investigate the effects of noise level and bandwidth on chirps and combination long calls (CLCs) produced by cotton-top tamarins (Saguinus oedipus). Noise amplitude and frequency content both influenced the structure of vocalizations; modifications included increased call amplitude (the Lombard effect), changes to call durations, and previously undocumented spectral shifts. Behavioral context was also relevant; modifications to CLCs were different from those observed in chirps. These results provide the first evidence of noise-induced spectral shifts in non-human primates, and emphasize the importance of behavioral context in vocal noise compensation.

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