Pew Fellow Links Vocal Learning in Marmosets and Humans

When babies cry, they are embarking on their first phase of vocal learning. It is well-known among scientists that human babies develop vocal patterns and speech based on their parents’ responses to those initial sounds.

Until very recently, scientists believed that only humans and birds participated in vocal learning. However, new research by 2010 Pew Latin American fellow Daniel Takahashi indicates that another primate may use this learning method as well.

For an August 2015 article published in the journal Science, Takahashi tracked vocal development in marmosets, monkeys native to South America, in the laboratory of Princeton University professor Asif Ghazanfar. Takahashi studied the factors that influenced the rate of transition from immature sounds to adult-like calls among his primate subjects. And he found that as the marmosets matured, parental and social responses had a significant impact on their rate of vocal development, indicating that vocal learning was taking place.

This discovery paves the way for a new system for studying human language development. Studying vocal learning in marmosets could produce findings that, when applied to humans, may lead to a greater understanding of human language and communication disorders. Learn more about the implications of Takahashi’s study here.

Daniel Takahashi, M.D., Ph.D., hails from Brazil and is a postdoctoral fellow in Princeton University’s psychology department. Click to learn more about Pew’s Latin American Fellows Program.

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