Neuroscientists show that monkeys can decide to call out or keep silent

Sep. 6, 2013 — “Should I say something or not?” Human beings are not alone in pondering this dilemma — animals also face decisions when they communicate by voice. University of Tübingen neurobiologists Dr. Steffen Hage and Professor Andreas Nieder have now demonstrated that nerve cells in the brain signal the targeted initiation of calls — forming the basis of voluntary vocal expression.Share This:When we speak, we use the sounds we make for a specific purpose — we intentionally say what we think, or consciously withhold information. Animals, however, usually make sounds according to what they feel at that moment. Even our closest relations among the primates make sounds as a reflex based on their mood. Now, Tübingen neuroscientists have shown that rhesus monkeys are able to call (or be silent) on command. They can instrumentalize the sounds they make in a targeted way, an important behavioral ability which we also use to put language to a purpose.To find out how the neural cells in the brain catalyse the production of controled vocal noises, the researchers taught rhesus monkeys to call out quickly when a spot appeared on a computer screen. While the monkeys solved puzzles, measurements taken in their prefrontal cortex revealed astonishing reactions in the cells there. The nerve cells became active whenever the monkey saw the spot of light which was the instruction to call out. …

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