Animal Cognition

, Volume 15, Issue 1, pp 1-13

First online:

Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.

Incidental sounds of locomotion in animal cognition

  • Matz LarssonAffiliated withThe Cardiology Clinic, Örebro University HospitalInstitute of Environmental Medicine, Karolinska Institutet Email author 


The highly synchronized formations that characterize schooling in fish and the flight of certain bird groups have frequently been explained as reducing energy expenditure. I present an alternative, or complimentary, hypothesis that synchronization of group movements may improve hearing perception. Although incidental sounds produced as a by-product of locomotion (ISOL) will be an almost constant presence to most animals, the impact on perception and cognition has been little discussed. A consequence of ISOL may be masking of critical sound signals in the surroundings. Birds in flight may generate significant noise; some produce wing beats that are readily heard on the ground at some distance from the source. Synchronization of group movements might reduce auditory masking through periods of relative silence and facilitate auditory grouping processes. Respiratory locomotor coupling and intermittent flight may be other means of reducing masking and improving hearing perception. A distinct border between ISOL and communicative signals is difficult to delineate. ISOL seems to be used by schooling fish as an aid to staying in formation and avoiding collisions. Bird and bat flocks may use ISOL in an analogous way. ISOL and interaction with animal perception, cognition, and synchronized behavior provide an interesting area for future study.


Hearing Schooling fish Organized flight Intermittent flight Synchronization Respiratory locomotor coupling