Rhesus macaques communicate between themselves using a complex series of sounds that can signify things as distinct as the presence of danger, particular social relationships, emotions or food alerts. Now scientists in the latest issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, while analyzing the brain areas activated during the recognition of these sounds, found that not only do monkeys seem to interpret these sounds using abstract representations like humans but they also use analogue neural networks, a discovery that can help to understand the origins of language in humans.
Ricardo Gil-da-Costa, Alex Martin and colleagues at the National Institutes of Health and the Harvard University in USA and at the Gulbenkian Science Institute in Portugal used positron emission tomography, a technique which allows the measurement of the functioning of distinct areas of the human brain with the individual conscious and alert, to study in Rhesus monkeys the brain’s response to the sounds used for communication within the species.
They were particularly interested in understanding how the monkeys processed the information transmitted by these sounds and the relationship with the mechanisms for human’s conceptual representation. The team of scientists used calls known to be associated with pleasant feelings, such as food recognition and friendly approach, or unpleasant emotions, such as fear, and analysed which areas of the brain were activated in each circumstance. As controls, non-biological sounds such as those produced by musical instruments were used.
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