Sound Playback Studies

  • S. L. Hopp
  • E. S. Morton


In the early 1890s, before Edison publicly released his gramophone, R.L. Garner, a researcher at the newly established National Zoological Park in Washington, D.C., had begun recording animal vocalizations. As part of his effort to decipher “the speech of monkeys”, Garner conducted some of the first sound playback experiments. He reasoned that by replaying the vocalizations to animals and watching their reactions, he could learn the functions of the sounds. In one experiment he replayed the sound of a female rhesus monkey to her mate, who had been separated from visual contact. Garner recounts, “He gave evident signs of recognizing the sounds, and at once began a search for the mysterious monkey doing the talking. His perplexity at this strange affair cannot well be described. The familiar voice of his mate would induce him to approach, but that squeaking, chattering horn was a feature which he could not comprehend. He traced the sounds, however, to the source from which they came, and failing to find his mate, thrust his arm into the horn quite up to his shoulder, then withdrew it, and peeped into it again and again” (Garner 1892, p. 6). Although his methods were simple by today’s standards, and his interpretation of the response not exactly conclusive, Garner nevertheless anticipated what has become one of the most important techniques for studying animal communication, the sound playback experiment.


Alarm Call Song Type Vervet Monkey Acoustic Communication Sound Transmission 
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© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 1998

Authors and Affiliations

  • S. L. Hopp
  • E. S. Morton

There are no affiliations available

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