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Auditory pre-experience modulates classification of affect intensity: evidence for the evaluation of call salience by a non-human mammal, the bat Megaderma lyra

Hanna B Kastein1, Vinoth AK Kumar2, Sripathi Kandula2 and Sabine Schmidt1*

Author Affiliations

1 Institute of Zoology, University of Veterinary Medicine Hannover Foundation, Bünteweg 17, Hannover 30559, Germany

2 School of Biological Sciences, Madurai Kamaraj University, Madurai 625021, India

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Frontiers in Zoology 2013, 10:75  doi:10.1186/1742-9994-10-75

Published: 16 December 2013



Immediate responses towards emotional utterances in humans are determined by the acoustic structure and perceived relevance, i.e. salience, of the stimuli, and are controlled via a central feedback taking into account acoustic pre-experience. The present study explores whether the evaluation of stimulus salience in the acoustic communication of emotions is specifically human or has precursors in mammals. We created different pre-experiences by habituating bats (Megaderma lyra) to stimuli based on aggression, and response, calls from high or low intensity level agonistic interactions, respectively. Then we presented a test stimulus of opposite affect intensity of the same call type. We compared the modulation of response behaviour by affect intensity between the reciprocal experiments.


For aggression call stimuli, the bats responded to the dishabituation stimuli independent of affect intensity, emphasising the attention-grabbing function of this call type. For response call stimuli, the bats responded to a high affect intensity test stimulus after experiencing stimuli of low affect intensity, but transferred habituation to a low affect intensity test stimulus after experiencing stimuli of high affect intensity. This transfer of habituation was not due to over-habituation as the bats responded to a frequency-shifted control stimulus. A direct comparison confirmed the asymmetric response behaviour in the reciprocal experiments.


Thus, the present study provides not only evidence for a discrimination of affect intensity, but also for an evaluation of stimulus salience, suggesting that basic assessment mechanisms involved in the perception of emotion are an ancestral trait in mammals.

Bats; Acoustic communication of emotions; Affect intensity; Social call perception; Habituation-dishabituation paradigm