Heterochrony and cross-species intersensory matching by infant vervet monkeys

Shahin Zangenehpour, Asif A. Ghazanfar, David J. Lewkowicz, Robert J. Zatorre

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

38 Scopus citations

Abstract

Background: Understanding the evolutionary origins of a phenotype requires understanding the relationship between ontogenetic and phylogenetic processes. Human infants have been shown to undergo a process of perceptual narrowing during their first year of life, whereby their intersensory ability to match the faces and voices of another species declines as they get older. We investigated the evolutionary origins of this behavioral phenotype by examining whether or not this developmental process occurs in non-human primates as well. Methodology/Principal Findings: We tested the ability of infant vervet monkeys (Cercopithecus aethiops), ranging in age from 23 to 65 weeks, to match the faces and voices of another non-human primate species (the rhesus monkey, Macaca mulatta). Even though the vervets had no prior exposure to rhesus monkey faces and vocalizations, our findings show that infant vervets can, in fact, recognize the correspondence between rhesus monkey faces and voices (but indicate that they do so by looking at the non-matching face for a greater proportion of overall looking time), and can do so well beyond the age of perceptual narrowing in human infants. Our results further suggest that the pattern of matching by vervet monkeys is influenced by the emotional saliency of the Face+Voice combination. That is, although they looked at the non-matching screen for Face+Voice combinations, they switched to looking at the matching screen when the Voice was replaced with a complex tone of equal duration. Furthermore, an analysis of pupillary responses revealed that their pupils showed greater dilation when looking at the matching natural face/voice combination versus the face/ tone combination. Conclusions/Significance: Because the infant vervets in the current study exhibited cross-species intersensory matching far later in development than do human infants, our findings suggest either that intersensory perceptual narrowing does not occur in Old World monkeys or that it occurs later in development. We argue that these findings reflect the faster rate of neural development in monkeys relative to humans and the resulting differential interaction of this factor with the effects of early experience.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere4302
JournalPloS one
Volume4
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - Jan 28 2009

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)
  • General

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