Animals Take Turns Talking During Conversations, A New Study Reports

From dolphins, mole rats, to songbirds, scientists believe that animals take turns while holding conversations with each other.

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Until now, most people believed that humans were the only ones that took turns talking during conversations. A new study by European researchers reported that all animals also take turns when holding conversations. Songbirds wait 50 milliseconds to reply and sperm whales wait about two seconds. In comparison, humans wait 200 milliseconds to respond, detailed Forbes.

Interestingly enough, just as it’s rude for people to talk over each other, it appears that the same social code applies to certain animals, including birds. The study found that black-capped chickadees and European starlings avoid overlaps when talking.

“If overlap occurs, individuals became silent or flew away, suggesting that overlapping may be treated, in this species, as a violation of socially accepted rules of turn-taking.”

Also, the study revealed that animals also use what’s called a Lombard reflex. The Lombard reflex is when one changes the volume, pitch, or speed in order to be heard better over background noise. The findings were a collaboration between British, Danish, and German researchers. The study was published in the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences journal, according to BT.

Scientists hope for a grander study of animals according to species, so it’s possible to make comparisons between different animals. Dr. Robin Kendrick said that “The ultimate goal of the framework is to facilitate large-scale, systematic cross-species comparisons… Such a framework will allow researchers to trace the evolutionary history of this remarkable turn-taking behaviour and address longstanding questions about the origins of human language.”

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Humans have always held some fascination with animal communication. But what about communicating with animals? Recently, Engadget reported on the possibilities of animal-translation technology in the future. Amazon, for example, is reportedly working on a “pet translator.” Some believe that this sort of technology could be available in the next decade.

Another company, called Zoolingua, is “working to develop technologies that will decode a dog’s vocalizations, facial expressions and actions and then tell the human user what the dog is trying to say.” The inventor, Slobodchikoff, says that the technology he’s working on is proprietary so he cannot disclose details, but it reportedly will use AI.

The idea of animal-translation technology has also prompted questions of whether it’s necessary at all, whereas others doubt that it’s possible to translate animals based on our human biases and language. Regardless, some companies will undoubtedly press on to develop such a technology, as the market for consumer goods for pets is continually growing. Even the founder of Zoolingua is unsure of what animals might have to say.

“We don’t have any evidence that dogs are communicating or thinking about their plans, hopes, last night’s dreams or fantasies. This is not to say they don’t have plans, hopes, dreams and fantasies: I expect they do… We don’t have behavioral evidence, and you couldn’t find it in a scan of the brain. For now, we just don’t know.”