Social Influences on Vocal Development.

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Snowdon, Charles T., And Hausberger, Martine (Eds). Social Influences on Vocal Development. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1997. ix+352 pp. $90.00.One of the persistent questions in evolutionary biology is why there is an apparent gap between human and nonhuman primates in the importance of individual experience during development in acquiring adult vocal skills. This gap is the more perplexing because of the extensive documentation for the important role played by learning in vocal development in songbirds and some mammals, notably certain cetaceans. The present volume attempts to integrate findings from studies ranging across these disparate animal groups, focusing in particular on the role of social companions in shaping the vocal behavior of developing individuals. It is comprised of 17 chapters, each written by authorities on vocal development in birds, cetaceans, nonhuman primates, or humans. Chapter 1, by Snowdon and Hausberger, introduces the volume. The goals for the book are laid out: a) to draw together into a single volume studies on birds, marine mammals, nonhuman primates, and children, aiming to reveal emerging parallels between them; b) to present evidence pertinent to understanding how organisms acquire the ability to understand and use species-specific sounds in the appropriate context; and c) to illustrate the variety of social interactions that affect vocal development. Chapter 2, by Nelson, reviews the effects of social interaction and sensitive periods on song learning. Nelson reinterprets earlier findings to suggest a greater role for a selective model of song learning, in which individuals selectively use appropriate vocal signals from an inherited repertoire based on their experience during ontogeny. Chapter 3, by Baptista and Gaunt, reviews the role played by social factors in avian vocal development. "Social learners" either require live tutors (obligate) or improve their vocal skills in the presence of a live tutor (facultative) during development. Chapter 4, by West, King, and Freeberg, presents arguments for more intensive study of individual singers, listeners, and the contexts framing communication in studies of avian song development. Chapter 5, by R. B. and L. L. Payne, reviews evidence obtained by field studies of the role of social models in avian song learning. Chapter 6, by Zann, reviews studies of the zebra finch, a species that has been intensively investigated by both ethologists and neurobiologists, and integrates findings made in the field and the laboratory. Chapter 7, by Brown and Farabaugh, asks what birds with complex social relationships can tell us about vocal learning. The authors argue that vocal learning has evolved to allow individuals to share vocalizations with a particular subset of conspecifics, rather than with any conspecific. Chapter 8, by Hausberger, addresses the social influences on song acquisition in the European starling. The author concludes that song sharing reflects affiliative interactions and sex-specificity, that starlings might have processes of personal identity and group identity formation that require rapid learning and considerable flexibility, and that social organization has to be studied in parallel with that of vocal development. Chapter 9, by Pepperberg, poses the possibility that social interaction effects may be more important during exceptional learning (unlikely to occur in the normal course of events for that species. The author presents a conceptual framework, social modeling theory, for characterizing how social inputs influence learning and for delineating the critical features of these inputs necessary for exceptional learning.

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