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Monkeys use 'baby talk' to interact with infants
Date:8/23/2007

Female rhesus monkeys use special vocalizations while interacting with infants, the way human adults use motherese, or baby talk, to engage babies attention, new research at the University of Chicago shows. Motherese is a high pitched and musical form of speech, which may be biological in origin, said Dario Maestripieri, Associate Professor in Comparative Human Development at the University. The acoustic structure of particular monkey vocalizations called girneys may be adaptively designed to attract young infants and engage their attention, similar to how the acoustic structure of human motherese, or baby talk, allows adults to visually or socially engage with infants.

In order to determine if other primates also use special vocalizations while interacting with infants, researchers studied a group of free-ranging rhesus macaques, which live on an island off the coast of Puerto Rico. They studied the vocalizations exchanged between adult females and found that grunts and girneys increased dramatically when a baby was present. They also found that when a baby wandered away from its mother, the other females looked at the baby and vocalized, suggesting that the call was intended for the baby.

Adult females become highly aroused while observing the infants of other group members, explains lead author of the article, Jessica Whitham, a recent Ph.D. graduate of the University of Chicago, who investigated this topic as a doctoral student at the University and currently works at Brookfield Zoo near Chicago. While intently watching infants, females excitedly wag their tails and emit long strings of grunts and girneys.

The calls appear to be used to elicit infants attention and encourage their behavior. They also have the effect of increasing social tolerance in the mother and facilitating the interactions between females with babies in general. Thus, the attraction to other females infants results in a relatively relaxed context of interacti
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Contact: William Harms
w-harms@uchicago.edu
773-702-8356
University of Chicago
Source:Eurekalert

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