Chimpanzees Extract Social Information from Agonistic Screams

Katie E. Slocombe, Tanja Kaller, Josep Call, Klaus Zuberbuehler

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

35 Citations (Scopus)


Chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes) agonistic screams are graded vocal signals that are produced in a context-specific manner. Screams given by aggressors and victims can be discriminated based on their acoustic structure but the mechanisms of listener comprehension of these calls are currently unknown. In this study, we show that chimpanzees extract social information from these vocal signals that, combined with their more general social knowledge, enables them to understand the nature of out-of-sight social interactions. In playback experiments, we broadcast congruent and incongruent sequences of agonistic calls and monitored the response of bystanders. Congruent sequences were in accordance with existing social dominance relations; incongruent ones violated them. Subjects looked significantly longer at incongruent sequences, despite them being acoustically less salient (fewer call types from fewer individuals) than congruent ones. We concluded that chimpanzees categorised an apparently simple acoustic signal into victim and aggressor screams and used pragmatics to form inferences about third-party interactions they could not see.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere11473
Number of pages6
JournalPLoS One
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - 14 Jul 2010


  • Chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes)
  • Communication
  • Acoustic signals
  • Social information


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