Vocal-Tract Resonances as Indexical Cues in Rhesus Monkeys

Asif A. Ghazanfar, Hjalmar K. Turesson, Joost X. Maier, Ralph van Dinther, Roy D. Patterson, Nikos K. Logothetis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

130 Scopus citations


Vocal-tract resonances (or formants) are acoustic signatures in the voice and are related to the shape and length of the vocal tract. Formants play an important role in human communication, helping us not only to distinguish several different speech sounds [1], but also to extract important information related to the physical characteristics of the speaker, so-called indexical cues. How did formants come to play such an important role in human vocal communication? One hypothesis suggests that the ancestral role of formant perception-a role that might be present in extant nonhuman primates-was to provide indexical cues [2-5]. Although formants are present in the acoustic structure of vowel-like calls of monkeys [3-8] and implicated in the discrimination of call types [8-10], it is not known whether they use this feature to extract indexical cues. Here, we investigate whether rhesus monkeys can use the formant structure in their "coo" calls to assess the age-related body size of conspecifics. Using a preferential-looking paradigm [11, 12] and synthetic coo calls in which formant structure simulated an adult/large- or juvenile/small-sounding individual, we demonstrate that untrained monkeys attend to formant cues and link large-sounding coos to large faces and small-sounding coos to small faces-in essence, they can, like humans [13], use formants as indicators of age-related body size.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)425-430
Number of pages6
JournalCurrent Biology
Issue number5
StatePublished - Mar 6 2007
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences




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