Cognitive Ethology: The Minds of Other Animals: Essays in Honor of Donald R. Griffin

By Donald R. Griffin; Carolyn A. Ristau | Go to book overview

8
DO ANIMALS HAVE THE OPTION OF WITHHOLDING SIGNALS WHEN COMMUNICATION IS INAPPROPRIATE? THE AUDIENCE EFFECT

Peter Marler University of California, Davis

Stephen Karakashian Marcel Gyger The Rockefeller University Field Research Center


ABSTRACT

Communicative behavior provides a potential window into problems of intentionality in animals. One elementary but neglected aspect of animal communication is the ability to emit or withhold a signal in the presence of the referent for that signal. Little is known about the degree to which this option is open to animals. We reasoned that presence or absence of appropriate signal receivers might influence the decision to withhold a signal. Alarm and food calls were elicited in cockerels by the appropriate external stimulation -- overhead hawk models and favored food items -- and studied in the presence and absence of an appropriate audience (e.g., a hen). The results demonstrate that, when an animal is in the presence of a signal referent, there is an ability to modulate signal production according to the appropriateness for communication of the caller's social circumstances.

In broadest terms, the theme of intentionality embraces a multitude of topics. Included are issues of action and cognition, systems of belief, and attributions of beliefs to others -- all subjects that are difficult to investigate in organisms with which we have no common natural language ( Dennett, 1981; Premack, 1986; Premack & Premack, 1983; Premack & Woodruff, 1978). Nevertheless, if intentions are revealed by a manifest concern with the effect of one's actions on others, communicative behavior is the natural subject for investigations of intentionality -- the combined operation of

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