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Vocal learning is the ability of animals to modify vocal signals as a result of experience with sounds that they hear, usually sound signals made by other individuals of the same species. The learned signals may be either similar or dissimilar to those of the model.[1] A more restrictive definition limits vocal learning to cases where animals learn to mimic sounds that are not in their genetic repertoire. [2][3]

A classical example of vocal learning is birdsong in the bird species whose repertoire is not entirely innate – for example, songbirds, parrots and hummingbirds. In mammals, seals and cetaceans have been found to have this capacity as well.[4] Further reports exist on bats and elephants.

In evolutionary psychology, human speech and vocal music are regarded as complex forms of vocal learning.

See also


  1. V.M. Janik & P.J.B. Slater. The different roles of social learning in vocal communication. Animal Behaviour 2000; 60:1-11. [1].
  2. Fitch W.T. The biology and evolution of music: A comparative perspective. Cognition 2006; 100(1):173-215. DOI
  3. Jarvis E.D. Selection for and against vocal learning in birds and mammals. Ornithol. Sci. 2006; 5:5-14. DOI
  4. V.M. Janik & P.J.B. Slater. Vocal learning in mammals. Advances in the Study of Behavior 1997; 26:59-99

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