Infants

Marmoset And Human Parents Teach Their Babies To "Speak" In The Same Way

As babies develop, their cries turn into babbles, which soon form distinguishable words. That process involves some physical changes, to be sure, but also plenty of feedback from Mom and Dad—all that baby talk does a brain good! This feedback process was long thought to be human-specific, but Princeton University researchers have discovered it in another animal: marmoset monkeys.

Like Infants, Like Infants

Some say it takes a village to raise a child, and for humans, that's often the case. We tend to share parenting responsibilities, not only between parents but extended family and daycare, too. But, as it turns out, we're not the only creatures to take care of our kin in such a way. Marmosets are a type of small, very social monkey from South America that also shares nurturing responsibilities for infants.

Let's return to that point about feedback. When a human baby babbles and a mother responds, that's called a contingent response. As we've previously reported, this kind of communication actually makes your baby smarter. In a May 2017 study, marmoset infants were shown to be the only non-human primates to develop their speech via the same sort of vocal feedback. All infant marmosets begin with a coarse, noisy call. For the experiment, researchers played audio clips of parents' calls for half of the babies after they made a noise, thereby providing a version of contingent feedback. The results? The babies that got lots of contingent feedback "developed adult-sounding calls more rapidly than their siblings," according to the study press release.

Talk The Talk

But, why does this happen? The researchers found that, like humans, marmosets learn that improving their speech will make them more likely to receive attention from a parent or another caregiver. In other words, the faster you learn how to say "I'm hungry," the faster you get fed. The study also notes that while marmosets don't "talk" like humans do, understanding their communication could shed light on the evolution and development of speech. Pretty major stuff, baby monkeys.

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Key Facts In This Video

  1. Initially, capuchin monkeys are happy to be rewarded with a cucumber for performing the same task. 00:20

  2. A capuchin monkey will become visibly upset if it sees that its comrade is getting a better reward for a task that both have performed. 00:42

  3. Chimpanzees have been known to reject a reward if they see that another chimp has received a worse one. 00:58

Written By
Curiosity Staff
June 23, 2017