Perception of harmonics in the combination long call of cottontop tamarins, Saguinus oedipus

Daniel J. Weiss, Marc D. Hauser

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

27 Scopus citations


A number of nonhuman primates produce vocalizations with time-varying harmonic structure. Relatively little is known about whether such spectral information plays a role in call type classification. We address this problem by utilizing acoustic analyses and playback experiments on cottontop tamarins' combi nation long call, a species-typical vocalization with a characteristic harmonic structure. Specifically, we used habituation-discrimination experiments to test whether particular frequency components, as well as the relationship between components, have an effect on the perception and classification of long calls. In Condition 1, we show that tamarins classify natural and synthetic exemplars of the long call as perceptually similar, thereby allowing us to use synthetics to manipulate components of this signal precisely. In subsequent conditions, we tested the perceptual salience and discriminability of long calls in which we deleted (1) the second harmonic, (2) the fundamental frequency, or (3) all frequencies above the fundamental; we also examined the effects of frequency mistuning by shifting the second harmonic by 1000 Hz. Following habituation to unmanipulated long calls, tamarins did not respond (transferred habituation) to long calls with either a missing fundamental frequency or the second harmonic, but responded (discriminated) to long calls with the upper harmonics eliminated or with the second harmonic mistuned. These studies reveal the importance of harmonic structure in tamarin perception, and highlight the advantages of using synthetic signals for understanding how particular acoustic features drive perceptual classification in nonhuman primates.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)415-426
Number of pages12
JournalAnimal Behaviour
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2002

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Animal Science and Zoology


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