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Monkey brains respond to monkey calls

December 06, 2004

Monkeys and humans appear to have a similar system for visualizing concepts and making mental pictures. Such conceptualization requires sophisticated neural circuitry. Non-human primates have developed a wide range of calls that signal a wealth of information to others in the same species about things like food, danger, and predators. Alex Martin and colleagues investigated brain activation in rhesus macaque monkeys (Macaca mulatta) to determine if the animals could be drawing pictures in their minds upon hearing a call. The researchers used positron emission tomography (PET) to identify which regions of the brain were activated when fully awake monkeys heard various calls. They measured the response to 36 examples of each of two types of calls, either coos or screams. As a control, they played nonbiological sounds such as those from musical instruments. In response to coos and screams, the activation of the brain extended beyond the auditory cortex. Coos and screams elicited activity in brain regions that support vision and visual memory, while screams alone elicited response in the more emotive areas of the brain like the amygdala. This research suggests that the macaque could provide a model system for studying the evolutionary development of concepts and language in humans.

“Toward an evolutionary perspective on conceptual representation: Species-specific calls activate visual and affective processing systems in the macaque,” Ricardo Gil-da-Costa, Allen Braun, Marco Lopes, Marc D. Hauser, Richard E. Carson, Peter Herscovitch, and Alex Martin, Published online 12 06 04

Abstract © 2004 PNAS

Alex Martin, National Institute of Mental Health