What Studies on Learning can Teach us about Playback Design

  • Irene M. Pepperberg
Part of the NATO ASI Series book series (NSSA, volume 228)


Communication must be studied as social interaction. If we are to understand how birds communicate, we need to examine not only the form of a given signal, the song, but also its meaning and the appropriate context for its use, the singing behaviour (see Smith 1991). Researchers who designed learning and playback experiments to study avian communication initially concentrated on form and sometimes meaning, but not the details of context. Recent studies on learning, however, have shown how birds are affected by the singing behaviour of other individuals: interactions that demonstrate how communication might occur, provide feedback on whether information has been transferred, or encourage the development of different forms of communication in different contexts (reviews in Pepperberg 1991; Pepperberg and Schinke-Llano in press). Playback experiments, in contrast, still generally concentrate on describing how birds respond to the form of a signal. But closer analysis reveals that playback studies, like those on song learning, actually do involve response to singing behaviour and not song alone (e.g. Smith 1988; Stoddard et al. 1988, 1990).


Language Acquisition Song Type Acoustic Communication Playback Experiment Song Sparrow 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Bandura, A. 1971. Analysis of modeling processes. In: Psychological Modelling. (Ed. by A. Bandura ), pp. 1–62. Aldine-Atherton, Chicago.Google Scholar
  2. Bandura, A. 1973. Aggression: A Social Learning Analysis. Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, NJ.Google Scholar
  3. Bandura, A. 1977. Social Modeling Theory. Aldine-Atherton, Chicago.Google Scholar
  4. Baptista, L.F. 1985. The functional significance of song-sharing in the white-crowned sparrow. Can. J. Zool., 63, 1741–1752.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Baptista, L.F. and Morton, M.L. 1982. Song dialects and mate selection in montane White-crowned sparrows. Auk, 99, 537–547.Google Scholar
  6. Bellugi, U. 1967. The Acquisition of Negation. Unpublished Ph.D. thesis. Harvard University, Cambridge, MA.Google Scholar
  7. Berman, R. 1979. The re-emergence of a bilingual: A case study of a Hebrew-English speaking child. Working Papers on Bilingualism, 19, 157–180.Google Scholar
  8. Bickerton, D. 1990. Language and Species. University of Chicago Press, Chicago.Google Scholar
  9. Bowerman, M. 1978. Words and sentences: Uniformity, individual variation, and shifts over time in patterns of acquisition. In: Communicative and Cognitive Abilities–Early Behavioral Assessment. (Ed. by F.D. Minifie L.L. Lloyd ), pp. 349–396. University Park Press, Baltimore.Google Scholar
  10. Brindley, E.L. 1991. Response of European robins to playback of song: neighbour recognition and overlapping. Anim. Behay., 41, 503–512.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Brown, R.L. 1973. A First Language. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA.Google Scholar
  12. Camaioni, L. and Laicardi, C. 1985. Early social games and the acquisition of language. Brit. J. Devel. Psych., 3, 31–39.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Clifton, R.K. and Nelson, M.N. 1976. Developmental study of habituation in infants: the importance of paradigm, response system, and state. In: Habituation. (Ed. by T.J. Tighe R.N. Leaton ), pp. 159–205. Lawrence Erlbaum Assoc., Hillsdale, NJ.Google Scholar
  14. Dabelsteen, T. 1981. The sound pressure level in the dawn song of the blackbird (Turdus merula) and a method for adjusting the level in experimental song to the level in natural song. Z. Tierpsychol., 56, 137–149.Google Scholar
  15. Dabelsteen, T. 1982. Variation in the response of free-living blackbirds (Turdus merula) to playback of song: I. Effect of continuous stimulation and predictability of the response. Z. Tierpsychol., 58, 311–328.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Dabelsteen, T. 1984. Variation in the response of freeliving blackbirds (Turdus merula) to playback of song: II. Effect of time of day, reproductive status and number of experiments. Z. Tierpsychol., 65, 215–227.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Dabelsteen, T. 1985. Messages and meanings of bird song with special reference to the blackbird (Turdus merula) and some methodology problems. Biol. Skr. Dan. Vid. Slesk., 25, 173–208.Google Scholar
  18. Dabelsteen, T. and Pedersen, S.B. 1990. Song and information about aggressive responses of blackbirds, Turdus merula: Evidence from interactive playback experiments with territory owners. Anim. Behay., 40, 1158–1168.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Dabelsteen, T. and Pedersen, S.B. 1991. A portable digital sound emitter for interactive playback of animal vocalizations. Bioacoustics, 3, 193–206.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Davis, H. 1984. Discrimination of the number three by a raccoon (Procyon lotor). Animal Learning Behavior, 4, 121–124.Google Scholar
  21. Davis, H and Bradford, S.A. 1986. Counting behavior in rats in a simulated natural environment. Ethology, 73, 265–280.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Dennett, D.C. 1990. The Intentional Stance. Bradford Books, The MIT Press, Cambridge, MA.Google Scholar
  23. de Villiers, J.G. and de Villiers, P.A. 1978. Language Acquisition. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA.Google Scholar
  24. Dore, J. 1983. Feeling, form, and intention in the baby’s transition to language. In: The Transition from Prelinguistic to Linguistic Communication. (Ed. by R.M. Golinkoff ), Lawrence Erlbaum Assoc., Hillsdale, NJ.Google Scholar
  25. Furrow, D. and Nelson, K. 1986. A further look at the motherese hypothesis: A reply to Gleitman, Newport, Gleitman. J. Child. Lang., 13, 163–176.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Griffin, D.R. 1981. The Question of Animal Awareness. Rockefeller University Press, New York.Google Scholar
  27. Hartshorne, C. 1956. The monotony-threshold in singing birds. Auk, 73, 176–192.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Hartshorne, C. 1973. Born to Sing. Indiana University Press, Bloomington, IA.Google Scholar
  29. Hatch, E. 1983. Psycholinguistics: A Second Language Perspective. Newbury House, Rowley, MA. Hoelzel, A.R. 1986. Song characteristics and response to playback of male and female robins, Erithacus rubecula. Ibis, 128, 115–127.Google Scholar
  30. Krashen, S.D. 1980. The input hypothesis. In: Current Issues in Bilingual Education. (Ed. by J.E. Alatis ). pp. 168–180. Georgetown University Press, Washington, D.C.Google Scholar
  31. Krashen, S.D. 1982. Principles and Practices in Second Language Acquisition. Pergamon Press, Oxford.Google Scholar
  32. Kroodsma, D.E. 1979. Vocal dueling among males marsh wrens: evidence for ritualized expressions of dominance/subordinance. Auk, 96, 506–515.Google Scholar
  33. Kroodsma, D.E. 1982. Song repertoires: problems in their definition and use. In: Evolution and Ecology of Acoustic Communication in Birds. Vo1.11. (Ed. by D.E. Kroodsma, E.H. Miller H. Ouellet ), pp. 125–146. Academic Press, New York.Google Scholar
  34. Kroodsma, D.E. 1990. Patterns in songbird singing behavior: Hartshorne vindicated. Anim. Behay., 39, 994–996.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Kuczaj, S.A. 1983. Crib Speech and Language Play. Springer-Verlag, NY.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Lieberman, P. 1984. The Biology and Evolution of Language. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA.Google Scholar
  37. Logan, C.A. 1988. Breeding context and response to song playback in mockingbirds (Mimus polyglottos). J. Comp. Psych., 102, 136–145.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Long, M.H. 1981. Input, interaction, and second-language acquisition. In: Native Language and Foreign Language Acquisition. (Ed. by H. Winitz ). Vol. 379, pp. 259–278. Ann. NY Acad. Sci.Google Scholar
  39. McGregor, P.K. and Falls, J.B. 1984. The response of Western Meadowlarks (Sturnella neglecta) to the playback of degraded and undegraded songs. Can. J. Zool., 62, 2125–2128.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. McLaughlin, B. 1984. Second-Language Acquisition in Childhood: %hl 1. Preschool Children. Lawrence Erlbaum Assoc., Hillsdale, NJ.Google Scholar
  41. Moran, G., Joch, E. and Sorenson, L. 1983, June: The response of meerkats (Suricata suricatta) to changes in olfactory cues on established scent posts. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the Animal Behavior Society, Lewisburg, PA.Google Scholar
  42. Morton, E.S. 1982. Grading, discreteness, redundancy, and motivation-structural rules. In: Evolution and Ecology of Acoustic Communication in Birds. W.1.7. (Ed. by D.E. Kroodsma, E.H. Miller H. Ouellet ), pp. 183–212. Academic Press, New York.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Nelson, K.E. 1978, August. Toward a rare-event cognitive comparison theory of syntax acquisition. Paper presented at the 1st International Congress for the Study of Child Language, Tokyo. (Cited in Kuczaj, 1983.)Google Scholar
  44. Pepperberg, I.M. 1985. Social modeling theory: A possible framework for understanding avian vocal learning. Auk, 102, 854–864.Google Scholar
  45. Pepperberg, I.M. 1986a. Acquisition of anomalous communicatory systems: Implications for studies on interspecies communication. In: Dolphin Cognition and Behavior: A Comparative Approach. (Ed. by R.J. Schusterman, J.A. Thomas, F.G. Woods ), pp. 289–302. Lawrence Erlbaum Assoc., Hillsdale, NJ.Google Scholar
  46. Pepperberg, I.M. 1986b. Sensitive periods, social interaction, and song acquisition: The dialectics of dialects? Behay. Brain Sci., 9, 756–757.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Pepperberg, I.M. 1987. Acquisition of the same/different concept by an African Grey parrot (Psittacus erithacus): Learning with respect to color, shape, and material. Animal Learning Behavior, 15, 423–432.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Pepperberg, I.M. 1988. The importance of social interaction and observation in the acquisition of social competence: Possible parallels between avian and human learning. In: Social Learning: Psychological and Biological Perspectives. (Ed. by T.R. Zentall B.G. Galef, Jr.), pp. 279–299. Lawrence Erlbaum Assoc., Hillsdale, NJ.Google Scholar
  49. Pepperberg, I.M. 1991. Learning to communicate: the effects of social interaction. In: Perspectives in Ethology, %fil. 9. (Ed. by P.P.G. Bateson P.H. Klopfer ), pp. 119–164. Plenum Press, NY.Google Scholar
  50. Pepperberg, I.M. and Neapolitan, D.M. 1988. Second language acquisition: A framework for studying the importance of input and interaction in exceptional song acquisition. Ethology, 77, 150–168.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Pepperberg, I.M. and Schinke-Llano, L. in press. Language acquisition and form in a bilingual environment: A framework for studying birdsong in zones of sympatry. Ethology Google Scholar
  52. Petrinovitch, L. 1988. The role of social factors in white-crowned sparrow song development. In: Social Learning.’ Psychological and Biological Perspectives. (Ed. by T.R. Zentall B.G. Galef, Jr.), pp. 255–278. Lawrence Erlbaum Assoc., Hillsdale, NJ.Google Scholar
  53. Petrinovich, L. and Patterson, T.L. 1979. Field studies of habituation: I. The effect of reproductive condition, number of trials, and different delay intervals on the response of the white-crowned sparrow. J. Comp. Physiol. Psych., 93, 337–380.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Petrinovich, L. and Patterson, T.L. 1980. Field studies of habituation: III. Playback contingent on the response of the white-crowned sparrow. Anim. Behay., 28, 742–751.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Petrinovich, L. and Patterson, T.L. 1981. Field studies of habituation: IV. Sensitization as a function of the distribution and novelty of song playback to white-crowned sparrow. J. Comp. Physiol. Psych., 95, 805–812.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Premack, D. 1986. Gavagai Bradford Books, The MIT Press, Cambridge, MA.Google Scholar
  57. Putney, R.T. 1985. Do willful apes know what they are aiming at? Psych. Record, 35, 49–62.Google Scholar
  58. Quine, W. V.O. 1960. Word and Object. The MIT Press, Cambridge, MA.Google Scholar
  59. Roitblat, H.L. 1987. Introduction to Comparative Cognition. W.H. Freeman Co., New York.Google Scholar
  60. Scarcella, R.C. and Higa, C.A. 1982. Input and age differences in second language acquisition. In: Child-Adult Differences in Second Language Acquisition. (Ed. by S.D. Krashen, R.C. Scarcella, M.H. Long ), pp. 175–201. Newbury House, Rowley, MA.Google Scholar
  61. Scollon, R. 1976. Conversations with a One-Year Old. University Press of Hawaii, Honolulu.Google Scholar
  62. Shipley, E.S., Smith, C.S. and Gleitman, L.R. 1969. A study in the acquisition of language: free response to commands. Language, 45, 322–342.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Shy, E. and Morton, E.S. 1986. The role of distance, familiarity, and time of day in Carolina wrens responses to conspecific songs. Behay. Ecol. Sociobiol., 19, 393–400.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. Smith, W.J. 1977. The Behavior of Communicating. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA.Google Scholar
  65. Smith, W.J. 1988. Patterned daytime singing of the eastern wood-pewee (Contopus virens). Anim. Behay., 36, 1111–1123.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. Smith, W.J. 1991. Singing is based on two markedly different kinds of signaling. J. Theor. Biol., 152, 241–253.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. Snow, C.E. 1979. The role of social interaction in language acquisition. In: Children’s Language and Communication. (Ed. by Collins, W.A. ), pp. 157–182. Lawrence Erlbaum Assoc., Hillsdale, NJ.Google Scholar
  68. Stoddard, P.K., Beecher, M.D. and Willis, M.S. 1988. Response of territorial male song sparrows to song types and variations. Behay. Ecol. Sociobiol., 22, 125–130.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  69. Stoddard, P.K., Beecher, M.D., Homing, C.L. and Willis, M.S. 1990. Strong neighbor-stranger discrimination in song sparrows. Condor, 92, 1051–1056.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  70. Swartz, K.B. 1980. A comparative perspective on perceptual, cognitive, and social development. J. Human Evol., 11, 315–320.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  71. Weary, D.M. and Lemon, R.E. 1988. Evidence against the continuity-versatility relationship in bird song. Anim. Behay., 36, 1379–1383.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  72. Weary, D.M. and Lemon, R.E. 1990. Kroodsma refuted. Anim. Behay., 39, 996–998.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  73. Wiley, R.H. and Richards, D.G. 1982. Adaptations for acoustic communication in birds: Sound transmission and signal detection. In: Evolution and Ecology of Acoustic Communication in Birds. 1bl.I. (Ed. by D.E. Kroodsma, E.H. Miller H. Ouellet ), pp. 131–181. Academic Press, New York.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  74. Zentalla, A.C. 1990: Integrating qualitative and quantitative methods in the study of bilingual code switching. In: The Uses of Linguistics. (Ed. by E.H. Bendix ). Vol. 583, pp. 75–92. Ann. NY Acad. Sci.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 1992

Authors and Affiliations

  • Irene M. Pepperberg
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Ecology & Evolutionary Biology and Department of PsychologyUniversity of ArizonaTucsonUSA

Personalised recommendations