Isabel Driscoll, PhD candidate

Emotion integration in meerkat vocalisations

Department of Evolutionary Biology and Environmental Studies, University of Zurich


Emotional encoding is ubiquitous in human and non-human animal vocalisations, either as a driver of vocal production or additional information encoded alongside meaning. In human vocalisation, both semantic and emotional information can be communicated simultaneously, but the extent to which this is present in non-human animal communication is unclear. Functionally referential calls in non-human animals offer the opportunity to investigate how much of the call’s acoustic structure is determined by the referent it refers to and how much is the related to the caller’s emotional state. In turn, on the receiver end, the integration of information concerning the context or stimuli and the caller’s emotional response provides a rich informational source to inform subsequent behaviour. I will be using meerkat alarm calls to explore how emotional encoding is integrated with referential information by callers in animal vocalisations and how this is perceived and acted upon by receivers. Meerkat alarm calls vary both with referent (aerial, terrestrial, recruitment) and urgency (from low to high). I will investigate how referent vs. urgency is encoded and how individual arousal specifically affects alarm call acoustic structure. I will then explore how receiver behavioural and physiological responses vary dependent on alarm call arousal.

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