Skip to main content Accessibility help
×
Home
  • Print publication year: 2016
  • Online publication date: May 2016

2 - What do you mean? Multimodal communication for a better signal transmission

from Part I - Communication: from sociality to society

Summary

Surrounding things transmit their images to the senses and the senses transfer them to the Sensation. Sensation sends them to the Common Sense, and by it they are stamped upon the memory and are there more or less retained according to the importance or force of the impression.

Leonardo Da Vinci, ca. 1510

What is multimodal communication?

The American journalist Sydney Harris briefly and effectively tagged the difference between information and communication. According to common definitions, information refers to facts about a situation, an individual or an event. Communication is ‘the process of sharing information, especially when this increases understanding between people or groups’ (Cambridge Dictionary) or ‘the imparting or exchanging of information by speaking, writing, or using some other medium’ (Oxford Dictionary). These definitions are centred on human communication when, in fact, communication is a widespread – and necessary – phenomenon spanning the whole animal kingdom. The light pulses of fireflies (Bradbury and Vehrencamp, 1998), the dance of honeybees (von Frisch, 1967; Seeley, 1997), the claw-waving displays of crustaceans (Dingle, 1969), the songs of birds (Vehrencamp, 2000), the alarm calls of different primates (Cheney and Seyfarth, 1990), and the articulate language of humans (Savage-Rumbaugh et al., 1998) are just some examples of information transmission between or among conspecifics.

Communication is an essential prerequisite for sociality and has evolved along with the development of social systems, from the simplest to the most complex (Freeberg et al., 2012). Communication involves the transmission of a signal, which is any action or trait produced by one animal, the sender, that provides information used by another animal, the receiver (Wilson, 1975; Endler, 1993; Hebets and Papaj, 2005). A signal is complex if it can be disassembled into different, single components, each of them able to elicit a response in the receiver. Such a response, of course, can be different from the response elicited by the complex signal. For example, when the telephone rings we stop doing what we are doing to answer. So, the ring has elicited a response in the receiver (us). Once we have picked up the phone, we can just hear a beep sequence if the signal is lost or we can hear the voice of a friend and start a conversation.

Related content

Powered by UNSILO
Begg, C. M., Begg, K. S., Du Toit, J. T. & Mills, M. G. L. (2003). Scent-marking behaviour of the honey badger, Mellivora capensis (Mustelidae), in the southern Kalahari. Animal Behaviour, 66, 917–929.
Bergman, T. (2013). Speech-like vocalized lip-smacking in geladas. Current Biology, 23, R268–R269.
Bradbury, J. K. & Veherencamp, S. L. (1998). Principles of Animal Communication. Sinauer Associates, Sunderland.
Brashares, J. S. & Arcese, P. (1999). Scent marking in a territorial African antelope. II. The economics of marking with faeces. Animal Behaviour, 57, 11–17.
Budnitz, N. & Dainis, K. (1975). Lemur catta: ecology and behavior. In: Tattersall, I. & Sussman, R. W. (eds), Lemur Biology. New York: Plenum, pp. 219–235.
Buesching, C. D., Heistermann, M., Hodges, J. K. & Zimmermann, E. (1998). Multimodal oestrus advertisement in a small nocturnal prosimian, Microcebus murinus. Folia Primatologica, 69(suppl 1), 295–308.
Cheney, D. L. & Seyfarth, R. M. (1990). How Monkeys See the World. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Clarke, P. M. R., Barrett, L. & Henzi, S. P. (2009). What role do olfactory cues play in chacma baboon mating?American Journal of Primatology, 71, 1–10.
de Waal, F. B. M. & Tyack, P. L. (2003). Animal Social Complexity: Intelligence, Culture, and Individualized Societies. Cambridge, Massachusetts:Harvard University Press.
Demuru, E., Ferrari, P. F. & Palagi, E. (2015). Emotionality and intentionality in bonobo playful communication. Animal Cognition, 18(1), 333–344.
Dingle, H. (1969). A statistical and informational analysis of aggressive communication in the mantis shrimp, Gonodactylus bredini. Animal Behaviour, 17, 561–575.
Dissanayake, E. (2006). Chapter I. In: S. Brown and U. Voglsten (eds), Music and Manipulation: on the social uses and social control of music. Oxford and New York: Berghahn Books, pp. 31–56.
Drea, C. M. & Scordato, E. S. (2008). Olfactory communication in the ringtailed lemur (Lemur catta): Form and function of multimodal signals. In: Jane, L., Hurst, J. L., Beynon, R. J., Roberts, C. S. & Wyatt, T. D. (eds), Chemical Signals in Vertebrates, 11. Springer., pp. 91–102.
Dubuc, C., Brent, L. J. N., Accamando, A. K., et al. (2009). Sexual skin color contains information about the timing of the fertile phase in free-ranging rhesus macaques. International Journal of Primatology, 30, 777–789.
Endler, J. A. (1993). Some general comments on the evolution and design of animal communication systems. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 340, 215–225.
Fitch, W. T. (1997). Vocal tract length and formant frequency dispersion correlate with body size in rhesus macaques. Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, 102, 1213–1222.
Freeberg, T. M., Dunbar, R. I. M. & Ord, T. J. (2012). Social complexity as a proximate and ultimate factor in communicative complexity. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 367, 1785–1801.
Genty, E. & Byrne, R. W. (2010). Why do gorillas make sequences of gestures?Animal Cognition, 13, 287–301.
Ghazanfar, A. A., Turesson, H. J., Maier, J. X., et al. (2007). Vocal tract resonances as indexical cues in rhesus monkeys. Current Biology, 17, 425–430.
Gielen, S. C. A. M., Schmidt, R. A. & van der Heuval, P. J. M. (1983). On the intersensory facilitation of reaction time. Perception and Psychophysics, 34, 161–168.
Gosling, L. M. (1987). Scent marking in an antelope lek territory. Animal Behaviour, 35, 620–622.
Gosling, L. M. & Roberts, S. C. (2001a). Scent-marking by male mammals: cheat-proof signals to competitors and mates. Advances in the Study of Behaviour, 30, 169–217.
Gosling, L. M., Roberts, S. C., Thornton, E. A. & Andrew, M. J. (2000). Life history costs of olfactory status signalling in mice. Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology, 48, 328–332.
Grafe, T. U., Preininger, D, Sztatecsny, M, Kasah, R., Dehling, J. M., et al. (2012). Multimodal communication in a noisy environment: a case study of the bornean rock frog Staurois parvus. PLoS ONE, 7(5), e37965. http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0037965.
Guildford, T. & Dawkins, M. S. (1991). Receiver psychology and the evolution of animal signals. Animal Behaviour, 42, 1–14.
Gustison, M. L., le Roux, A. & Bergman, T. J. (2012). Derived vocalizations of geladas (Theropithecus gelada) and the evolution of vocal complexity in primates. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B, 367, 1847–1859.
Hasson, O. (1994). Cheating signals. Journal of Theoretical Biology, 167, 223–238.
Hebets, E. A. & Papaj, D. R. (2005). Complex signal function: developing a framework of testable hypotheses. Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology, 57, 197–214.
Higham, J. P. & Hebets, E. A. (2013). An introduction to multimodal communication. Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology, 67, 1381–1388.
Higham, J. P., MacLarnon, A. M., Ross, C., Heistermann, M. & Semple, S. (2008). Baboon sexual swellings: information content of size and color. Hormones and Behaviour, 53, 452–462.
Higham, J. P., Semple, S., MacLarnon, A., Heistermann, M. & Ross, C. (2009). Female reproductive signals, and male mating behavior, in the olive baboon. Hormones and Behavior, 55, 60–67.
Higham, J. P., Brent, L. J. N., Dubuc, C., et al. (2010). Color signal information content and the eye of the beholder: a case study in the rhesus macaque. Behavioral Ecology, 21, 739–746.
Higham, J. P., Pfefferle, D, Heistermann, M., Maestripieri, D. & Stevens, M. (2013). Signaling in multiple modalities in male rhesus macaques: barks and sex skin coloration in relation to androgen levels, social status and mating behavior. Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology, 67, 1457–1469.
Hobaiter, C. & Byrne, R. W. (2011). The gestural repertoire of the wild chimpanzee. Animal Cognition, 14, 745–767.
Horowitz, A. C. (2009). Attention to attention in domestic dog (Canis familiaris) dyadic play. Animal Cognition, 12, 107–118.
Hostetter, A. B., Cantero, M. & Hopkins, W. D. (2001). Differential use of vocal and gestural communication by chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) in response to the attentional status of a human (Homo sapiens). Journal of Comparative Psychology, 115, 337–343.
Jolly, A. (1966). Lemur Behaviour: a Madagascar Field Study. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.
Jolly, A. & Pride, E. (1999). Troop histories and range inertia of Lemur catta at Berenty, Madagascar: a 33-year perspective. International Journal of Primatology, 20, 359–373.
Jolly, A., Koyama, N., Rasamimanana, H., Crowley, H. & Williams, G. (2006). Berenty Reserve: a research site in southern Madagascar. In: Jolly, A, Sussman, R. W, Koyama, N & Rasamimanana, H (eds), Ringtailed Lemur Biology: Lemur catta in Madagascar. New York: Springer-Verlag Press, pp. 32–42.
Jones, C. B. & Van Cantfort, T. E. (2007). Multimodal communication by male mantled howler monkeys (Alouatta palliata) in sexual contexts: a descriptive analysis. Folia Primatologica, 78, 166–185.
Kappeler, P. M. (1990). Social status and scent-marking behaviour in Lemur catta. Animal Behaviour, 40, 774–776.
Kappeler, P. M. (1998). To whom it may concern: the transmission and function of chemical signals in Lemur catta. Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology, 42, 411–421.
Kruuk, H. (1972). The Spotted Hyena: a study of predation and social behaviour. Illinois: University of Chicago Press.
Kulahci, I. G., Dornhaus, A. & Papaj, D. R. (2008). Multimodal signals enhance decision making in foraging bumble-bees. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 275, 797–802. http://dx.doi.org/10.1098/rspb.2007.1176.
Leavens, D. A. (2007). Animal cognition: multimodal tactics of orangutan communication. Current Biology, 17, R762–R764.
Leavens, D. A. & Hopkins, W. D. (2007). Multimodal concomitants of manual gestures by chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes). In: Liebal, K, Müller, C and Pika, S (eds), Gestural Communication in Nonhuman and Human Primates. Amsterdam, Philadelphia: John Benjamins Publishing Company.
Leavens, D. A., Hostetter, A. B., Wesley, M. J. & Hopkins, W. D. (2004). Tactical use of unimodal and bimodal communication by chimpanzees, Pan troglodytes. Animal Behaviour. 67, 467–476.
Lewis, R. J. & van Schaik, C. P. (2007). Bimorphism in male Verreaux’ sifaka in the Kirindy forest of Madagascar. International Journal of Primatology, 28, 159–182.
Liebal, K., Pika, S. & Tomasello, M. (2006). Gestural communication of orangutans (Pongo pygmaeus). Gesture, 6, 1–38.
Liebal, K., Waller, B. M., Burrows, A. M. & Slocombe, K. E. (2013). Primate Communicaton: A Multimodal Approach. Cambridge University Press.
Lovelace, C. T., Stein, B. E. & Wallace, M. T. (2003). An irrelevant light enhances auditory detection in humans: a psychophysical analysis of multisensory integration in stimulus detection. Cognitive Brain Research, 17, 447–453.
Maestripieri, D. & Roney, J. R. (2005). Primate copulation calls and post-copulatory female choice. Behavioral Ecology, 16, 106–113.
Markl, H. (1983). Vibrational communication. In: Huber, R. & Markl, H. (eds), Neurobiology and Behavioral Physiology. Berlin, Heidelberg, New York: Springer, pp. 332–353.
Marler, P. (1961). The logical analysis of animal communication. Journal of Theoretical Biology, 1, 295–317.
McGurk, H. & MacDonald, J. (1976). Hearing lips and seeing voices. Nature, 264, 746–748.
Michael, R. P. & Keverne, E. (1968). Pheromones in the communication of sexual status in primates. Nature, 218, 746–749.
Micheletta, J., Engelhardt, A., Matthews, L., Agil, M. & Waller, B. M. (2013). Multicomponent and multimodal lipsmacking in crested macaques (Macaca nigra). American Journal of Primatology, 75(7), 763–773.
Nakamichi, M. & Koyama, M. (1997). Social relationships among ring-tailed lemurs (Lemur catta) in two free-ranging troops at Berenty Reserve, Madagascar. International Journal of Primatology, 18, 73–93.
Norscia, I. & Palagi, E. (2008). Berenty 2006: census of Propithecus verreauxi and possible evidence of population stress. International Journal of Primatology, 29, 1099–1115.
Nunn, C. L. & Deaner, R. O. (2004). Patterns of participation and free riding in territorial conflicts among ringtailed lemurs (Lemur catta). Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology, 57, 50–61.
Ono, Y., Ikeda, T., Baba, H., et al. (1988). Territoriality of Guenther's dikdik in the Omo National Park, Ethiopia. African Journal of Ecology, 26, 33–49.
Palagi, E. & Dapporto, L. (2006a). Beyond odour discrimination: demonstrating individual recognition in Lemur catta. Chemical Senses, 31, 437–443.
Palagi, E. & Dapporto, L. (2006b). Urine marking and urination in Lemur catta: a comparison of design features. Annales Zoologici Fennici, 43, 280–284.
Palagi, E. & Norscia, I. (2009). Multimodal signaling in wild Lemur catta: economic design and territorial function of urine marking. American Journal of Physical Anthropology, 139, 182–192.
Palagi, E., Telara, S. & Borgognini-Tarli, S. M. (2003). Sniffing behavior in Lemur catta: seasonality, sex, and rank. International Journal of Primatology, 24, 335–350.
Palagi, E., Telara, S. & Borgognini-Tarli, S. M. (2004). Reproductive strategies in Lemur catta: balance among sending, receiving, and counter-marking scent signals. International Journal of Primatology, 25, 1019–1031.
Palagi, E., Dapporto, L. & Borgognini-Tarli, S. (2005). The neglected scent: on the marking function of urine in Lemur catta. Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology, 58, 437–445.
Palagi, E., Leone, A., Mancini, G. & Ferrari, P. F. (2009). Contagious yawning in gelada baboons as a possible expression of empathy. PNAS, 106, 19262–19267.
Palagi, E., Burghardt, G. M., Smuts, B., et al. (2015). Rough-and-tumble play as a window on animal communication. Biological Reviews.
Parr, L. A. (2004). Perceptual biases for multimodal cues in chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes) affect recognition. Animal Cognition, 7, 171–178.
Partan, S. (2013). Ten unanswered questions in multimodal communication. Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology, 67, 1523–1539.
Partan, S. & Marler, P. (1999). Communication goes multimodal. Science, 283(5406), 1272–1273.
Partan, S. R. & Marler, P. (2005). Issues in the classification of multisensory communication signals. American Naturalist, 166, 231–245.
Peters, R. P. & Mech, L. D. (1975). Scent-marking in wolves. American Scientist, 63, 628–637.
Pochron, S. T. & Wright, P. C. (2003). Variability in adult group compositions of a prosimian primate. Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology, 54, 285–293.
Pollick, A. S. & de Waal, F. B. M. (2007). Ape gestures and language evolution. PNAS, 104, 8184–8189.
Poss, S. R., Kuhar, C., Stoinski, T. S. & Hopkins, W. D. (2006). Differential use of attentional and visual communicative signaling by orangutans (Pongo pygmaeus) and gorillas (Gorilla gorilla) in response to the attentional status of a human.American Journal of Primatology, 68, 978–992.
Radcliffe-Brown, A. R. (1948). The Andaman Islanders. Glencoe, IL: The Free Press.
Renoult, J. P.Schaefer, H. M., Sallé, B. & Charpentier, M. J. E. (2011). The evolution of the multicoloured face of mandrills: insights from the perceptual space of colour vision. PLoS ONE, 6(12), e29117. http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0029117.
Rigaill, L., Higham, J. P., Lee, P. C., Blin, A. & Garcia, C. (2013). Multimodal sexual signaling and mating behavior in olive baboons (Papio anubis). American Journal of Primatology, 75, 774–787.
Roper, T. J., Contradt, L., Butler, J., et al. (1993). Territorial marking with faeces in badgers (Meles meles): a comparison of boundary and hinterland latrine use. Behaviour, 127, 289–307.
Rowe, C. (1999). Receiver psychology and the evolution of multicomponent signals. Animal Behaviour, 58, 921–931.
Rushmore, J., Leonhardt, S. D. & Drea, C. M. (2012). Sight or scent: lemur sensory reliance in detecting food quality varies with feeding ecology. PLoS ONE, 7(8), e41558. http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0041558.
Ruxton, G. D. & Schaefer, H. M. (2013). Game theory, multi-modal signalling and the evolution of communication. Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology, 67, 1417–1423.
Sauther, M. L. (1991). Reproductive behavior of free-ranging Lemur catta at Beza Mahafaly Special Reserve, Madagascar. American Journal of Physical Anthropology, 84, 463–477.
Sauther, M. L., Sussman, R. W. & Gould, L. (1999). The socioecology of the ringtailed lemur: Thirty-five years of research. Evolutionary Anthropology, 8, 120–132.
Savage-Rumbaugh, S., Stuart, S. G. & Talbot, T. J. (1998). Apes, Language, and the Human Mind.New York, NY, US: Oxford University Press.
Sclafani, V., Norscia, I., Antonacci, D. & Palagi, E. (2012). Scratching around mating: factors affecting anxiety in wild Lemur catta. Primates, 53, 247–254.
Scordato, E. S. & Drea, C. M. (2007). Scents and sensibility: information content of olfactory signals in the ringtailed lemur, Lemur catta. Animal Behaviour, 73, 301–314.
Seeley, T. D. (1997). Honey bee colonies are group-level adaptive units. The American Naturalist, 150(supplement), 522–541.
Semple, S. & Higham, J. P. (2013). Primate signals: Current issues and perspectives. American Journal of Primatology, 75, 613–620.
Setchell, J. M. & Dixson, A. F. (2001a). Arrested development of secondary sexual adornments in subordinate adult male mandrills (Mandrillus sphinx). American Journal of Physical Anthropology, 115, 245–252.
Setchell, J. M. & Dixson, A. F. (2001b). Changes in the secondary sexual adornments of male mandrills (Mandrillus sphinx) are associated with gain and loss of alpha status. Hormones and Behaviour, 39, 177–184.
Setchell, J. M. & Dixson, A. F. (2002). Developmental variables and dominance rank in male mandrills (Mandrillus sphinx). American Journal of Primatology, 56, 9–25.
Setchell, J. M. & Kappeler, P. M. (2003). Selection in relation to sex in primates. Advances in the Study of Behavior, 33, 87–173.
Setchell, J. M., Lee, P. C., Wickings, E. J. & Dixson, A. F. (2001). Growth and ontogeny of sexual size dimorphism in the mandrill (Mandrillus sphinx). American Journal of Physical Anthropology, 115, 349–360.
Setchell, J. M., Charpentier, M., Abbott, K. A., Wickings, E. J. & Knapp, L. A. (2009). Is brightest best? Testing the Hamilton-Zuk hypothesis in mandrills. International Journal of Primatology, 30, 825–844.
Slocombe, K. E. & Zuberbuhler, K. (2005). Agonistic screams in wild chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes schweinfurthii) vary as a function of social role. Journal of Comparative Psychology, 119, 67–77.
Slocombe, K. E., Waller, B. M. & Liebal, K. (2011). The language void: the need for multimodality in primate communication research. Animal Behaviour, 81(5), 919–924.
Smith, C. L. & Evans, C. S. (2013). A new heuristic for capturing the complexity of multimodal signals. Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology, 67, 1389–1398.
Smith, W. J. (1977). The Behavior of Communicating: an ethological approach. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Sun, L., Xiao, B. & Dai, N. (1994). Scent marking behaviour in the male Chinese water deer. Acta Theriologica, 39, 177–184.
Sussman, R. W. & Richard, A. (1974). The role of aggression among diurnal prosimians. In: Hollowey, L. R. (ed.), Primate Aggression, Territoriality, and Xenophobia: a comparative perspective. New York: Academic Press, pp. 49–76.
Taylor, R. C., Klein, B. A., Stein, J. & Ryan, M. J. (2008). Faux frogs: multi-modal signalling and the value of robotics in animal behavior. Animal Behaviour, 76, 1089–1097.
Tomasello, M., Call, J., Nagell, K., Olguin, K. & Carpenter, M. (1994). The learning and use of gestural signals by young chimpanzees: A trans-generational study. Primates, 35, 137–154.
Uy, J. A. C. & Safran, R. J. (2013). Variation in the temporal and spatial use of signals and its implications for multimodal communication. Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology, 67, 1499–1511.
Vehrencamp, S. (2000). Handicap, index, and conventional signal elements of bird song. In: Espmark, Y., Amundsen, T. T. & Rosenqvist, G. (eds), Animal Signals: Signalling and Signal Design in Animal Communication. Trondheim: Tapir Academic Press, pp. 277–300.
von Frisch, K. (1967). The Dance Language and Orientation of Bees. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Waller, B. M., Liebal, K., Burrows, A. M. & Slocombe, K. E. (2013). How can a multimodal approach to primate communication help us understand the evolution of communication?Evolutionary Psychology, 11, 538–549.
Wilson, A., Dean, M. & Higham, J. P. (2013). A game theoretic approach to multimodal communication. Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology, 67, 1399–1415.
Wilson, E. O. (1975). Sociobiology: The New Synthesis. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.
Wright, P. C. (1999). Lemur traits and Madagascar ecology: coping with an island environment. American Journal of Physical Anthropology, 110(Suppl 29), 31–72.
Wyatt, T. D. (2003). Pheromones and Animal Behaviour: Communication by Smell and Taste. Cambridge University Press.