Abstract: The aim of this paper is to discuss the important role that behavioral mechanisms, such as contingency learning and equivalence class formation, play in the production and comprehension of auditory signals in the context of mammalian social communication. Observations and experiments on vocal communication in mammals have often emphasized the importance of learning either from the perspective of the signaler or from the perspective of the receiver. It is our goal to discuss the roles and potential mechanisms of learning on both sides of communication. While marine mammals are notable in their capacity for complex learning in their vocal communication, until now, the major emphasis has been on the study of cetaceans. In the current paper, we focus primarily on the pinnipeds (seals, sea lions, and walruses) as a source for insight into how the learned aspects of auditory signaling and receiving may be acquired. We find that the results from carefully designed laboratory experiments can aid in the interpretation of field observations of communicative behavior. The complementary use of both of these approaches improves our understanding of the cognitive operations being carried out by animals in their natural environment.


Document Type: Research article

DOI: 10.1578/AM.32.4.2006.483

Page Numbers: 483 - 490

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