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Vocal correlates of sender-identity and arousal in the isolation calls of domestic kitten (Felis silvestris catus)

Marina Scheumann1*, Anna-Elisa Roser1, Wiebke Konerding1, Eva Bleich2, Hans-Jürgen Hedrich2 and Elke Zimmermann1

Author Affiliations

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

2 Institute for Laboratory Animal Science, Hannover Medical School, Carl-Neuberg-Straße 1, Hannover D-30626, Germany

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Frontiers in Zoology 2012, 9:36  doi:10.1186/1742-9994-9-36

Published: 21 December 2012



Human speech does not only communicate linguistic information but also paralinguistic features, e.g. information about the identity and the arousal state of the sender. Comparable morphological and physiological constraints on vocal production in mammals suggest the existence of commonalities encoding sender-identity and the arousal state of a sender across mammals. To explore this hypothesis and to investigate whether specific acoustic parameters encode for sender-identity while others encode for arousal, we studied infants of the domestic cat (Felis silvestris catus). Kittens are an excellent model for analysing vocal correlates of sender-identity and arousal. They strongly depend on the care of their mother. Thus, the acoustical conveyance of sender-identity and arousal may be important for their survival.


We recorded calls of 18 kittens in an experimentally-induced separation paradigm, where kittens were spatially separated from their mother and siblings. In the Low arousal condition, infants were just separated without any manipulation. In the High arousal condition infants were handled by the experimenter. Multi-parametric sound analyses revealed that kitten isolation calls are individually distinct and differ between the Low and High arousal conditions. Our results suggested that source- and filter-related parameters are important for encoding sender-identity, whereas time-, source- and tonality-related parameters are important for encoding arousal.


Comparable findings in other mammalian lineages provide evidence for commonalities in non-verbal cues encoding sender-identity and arousal across mammals comparable to paralinguistic cues in humans. This favours the establishment of general concepts for voice recognition and emotions in humans and animals.

Affect-intensity; Individual signature; Infant; Mammal; Cat; Vocalisation