All Animals Communicate

All Animals Communicate Photo credit: Clipart.com


Specialized roles within species are genetically programmed. And, depending on the neural abilities of an animal, it may be able to do only simple or very complex tasks. For example, human beings have superior neural abilities compared to other animals and are therefore able to invent and modify a wider range of social behavior, including their own communication abilities.

Communicating is something that all animals, including humans, do. Whether it's a dog barking a warning, a cat arching its back, or crickets chirping, animals are constantly sending messages to each other. Scientists studying communication among animals are trying to understand the neurobiology of sound production and perception. They are interested in understanding how both the human brain and the non-human primate brain perceive speech. There are certain areas of the brain that have been mapped and linked to communication abilities. The planum temporale (PT) is widely accepted as a key component of the Wernicke's language area of the brain, which evaluates the significance of content words, and is linked to behaviors presumed to be distinctly human, including musical talent and handedness (whether we are right or left handed), as well as communication disorders such as dyslexia (a disturbance of the ability to read). Language sites in the left hemisphere, which may also include the PT, are used by people born deaf who use sign language as a form of communication.

The PT and its particular characteristics in controlling communication behaviors are widely accepted by scientific communities as being uniquely human. However, new groundbreaking research led by Dr. Patrick Gannon of the Mount Sinai School of Medicine has found that the anatomical pattern and relative size of the PT in the chimpanzee brain parallels humans' PT precisely. Gestures, grunts, and hoots may not rival a Shakespeare poem, but the area of the brain generating this type of language in chimpanzees is similar to the PT found in the human brain.

Other scientists interpret the new evidence to mean that while chimps and other great apes may have more complex communications systems than previously thought, these systems still don't constitute language. They believe that while we may have a fundamentally similar ancestral brain area, the PT region did not evolve a functional role in communication-related tasks in chimpanzees as it did in humans, and that it serves some other purpose.

In humans, this part of the brain region (PT) seems to be very important for processing other types of information associated with communication (NOT JUST LANGUAGE), such as gesture, visual, physical, tactile (touch), and vocal/auditory. It is thought to be the center of communication abilities in humans.

In birds, research is also providing insightful information regarding communication. It is possible to pinpoint what aspects of sound are important for tamarins to say, "This a long call," or "This is a food chirp." This kind of behavioral work is critical because it provides neurobiologists with information that they need to begin asking questions about how the brain picks up on sound, such as, "What areas of the brain are most active?" "What is the circuitry that allows us to decode signals?" As behavioral scientists work with neuroscientists, we will gain a better understanding of how the brain evolved to decode what is so important for social interactions in humans and in non-human animals: a communication system that conveys information about emotions and thought.

In contrast with birds and other animals that communicate behaviorally, human beings have complex brains that have evolved in ways that allow the human to invent and re-invent (or modify) ways of communicating. The methods humans use to communicate are constantly evolving. Since humans first developed language, we've been busy modifying it. Nowadays, we use hundreds of different languages to transmit messages to each other.

One of the best examples of how humans have modified their communication abilities is with the advent of the Internet and Electronic mail (E-mail). These technologies were absent from our lives 15 years ago and have recently become as important as the old ways of communication, such as talking, telephone conversations, letters, etc.

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