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'Baby Talk' Used By Monkeys To Interact With Infants

Female rhesus monkeys use special vocalizations while interacting with infants, the way human adults use motherese, or "baby talk," to engage babies' attention, new research at the University of Chicago shows. "Motherese is a high pitched and musical form of speech, which may be biological in origin," said Dario Maestripieri, Associate Professor in Comparative Human Development at the University. "The acoustic structure of particular monkey vocalizations called girneys may be adaptively designed to attract young infants and engage their attention, similar to how the acoustic structure of human motherese, or baby talk, allows adults to visually or socially engage with infants."

In order to determine if other primates also use special vocalizations while interacting with infants, researchers studied a group of free-ranging rhesus macaques, which live on an island off the coast of Puerto Rico. They studied the vocalizations exchanged between adult females and found that grunts and girneys increased dramatically when a baby was present. They also found that when a baby wandered away from its mother, the other females looked at the baby and vocalized, suggesting that the call was intended for the baby.


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