top of page

This research started in 2012, soon after a fellow scientist in my field who studied tamarins was under investigation by the federal regulatory agency and his host institution for potential misconduct when collecting data on tamarins reacting to human language sounds in patterns. This finding had been published earlier and was significant because it suggested that the sensitivities that infants show toward patterns in language were shared with nonhuman primates. I decided to try to replicate this study, but also tested pattern sensitivities to musical tones and to monkey calls that I had recorded and chopped up into units resembling the human language sounds, phonemes, used in the original study. I actually obtained the original sounds used by the scientist under fire to do this. 

The result was that the challenged researcher's findings were correct, at least in part. Tamarins can recognize the structure of the pattern and find novel sounds that fit that structure to be similar, and thus not novel or requiring more attention. However, change the structure and they are interested again! The way this needs reinterpreting though, is that it worked for musical tones as well as human phonemes, so it is not language-related, rather pattern related. And tamarins found a scrambled patterned version of their own calls to not be something they could get used to in the same way. 

See an example of Cezanne and Quaker habituating, or showing less attention, to a tone sequence called AAB using different tones each trial. They look less toward the speaker each time, and spend more time eating their treats. 

This study could not have been done as cleanly as it was without the help of a music cognition colleague, Justin London, and a linguistics colleague, Michael Flynn. They helped me to select tones to construct natural melodic patterns (London) and phonemes that had similar boundary characteristics (Flynn). 

Read the article published on artificial grammar learning (2017).

CITATION: Neiworth, J. J., London, J. M., Flynn, M. J., Rupert, D. D., Alldritt, O., & Hyde, C. (2017). Artificial grammar learning in tamarins (Saguinus oedipus) in varying stimulus contexts. Journal of comparative psychology (Washington, D.C. : 1983), 131(2), 128–138.

bottom of page