Social processes in communication and cognition in callitrichid monkeys: a review
Studies of vocal development in nonhuman primates have found little evidence for plasticity in vocal production, somewhat more for usage of calls, with the greatest plasticity arising in response to calls of others. Generally, similar results were obtained with callitrichid monkeys, the marmosets and tamarins, but with several interesting exceptions. Infant pygmy marmosets show babbling behavior with improvement in adult call structure related to the amount and diversity of babbling. Adult marmosets alter call structure in response to changes in social partners, and wild marmosets have vocal dialects and modify call structure according to how far they are from other group members, suggesting the potential to modify call structure in different social and environmental contexts, though direct learning of novel vocalizations has not been observed. Infant cotton-top tamarins do not produce adult-like calls in appropriate contexts, at least in the first few months of life, but through food sharing from adults infants learn about appropriate foods and the appropriate contexts for food vocalizations. Tamarins modify call structure and usage with changes in social status. Tamarins, unlike other monkeys tested, can learn to avoid noxious foods through observation of other group members, and can learn about novel food locations. Recent studies provide evidence of contextual imitation in marmosets. The plasticity in vocal communication and evidence of social learning in marmosets and tamarins relative to other monkeys may be related to the cooperative breeding system of marmosets and tamarins. With a high degree of behavioral coordination among group members, there is a priority on monitoring signals and behavior of others and adjusting one’s own signals and behavior. This creates the context for vocal plasticity and social learning.