You talkin’ to me? Interactive playback is a powerful yet underused tool in animal communication research

Stephanie Laura King

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Citations (Scopus)


Over the years, playback experiments have helped further our understanding of the wonderful world of animal communication. They have provided fundamental insights into animal behaviour and the function of communicative signals in numerous taxa. As important as these experiments are, however, there is strong evidence to suggest that the information conveyed in a signal may only have value when presented interactively. By their very nature, signalling exchanges are interactive and therefore, an interactive playback design is a powerful tool for examining the function of such exchanges. While researchers working on frog and songbird vocal interactions have long championed interactive playback, it remains surprisingly underused across other taxa. The interactive playback approach is not limited to studies of acoustic signalling, but can be applied to other sensory modalities, including visual, chemical and electrical communication. Here, I discuss interactive playback as a potent yet underused technique in the field of animal behaviour. I present a concise review of studies that have used interactive playback thus far, describe how it can be applied, and discuss its limitations and challenges. My hope is that this review will result in more scientists applying this innovative technique to their own study subjects, as a means of furthering our understanding of the function of signalling interactions in animal communication systems.
Original languageEnglish
JournalBiology Letters
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2015


  • Playback
  • Vocal communication
  • Cognition


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