Measuring rhythms of vocal interactions: a proof of principle in harbour seal pups

Marianna Anichini, Koen de Reus, Taylor A. Hersh, Daria Valente, Anna Salazar Casals, Caroline Berry, Peter E. Keller, Andrea Ravignani

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)


Rhythmic patterns in interactive contexts characterize human behaviours such as conversational turn-taking. These timed patterns are also present in other animals, and often described as rhythm. Understanding fine-grained temporal adjustments in interaction requires complementary quantitative methodologies. Here, we showcase how vocal interactive rhythmicity in a non-human animal can be quantified using a multi-method approach. We record vocal interactions in harbour seal pups (Phoca vitulina) under controlled conditions. We analyse these data by combining analytical approaches, namely categorical rhythm analysis, circular statistics and time series analyses. We test whether pups' vocal rhythmicity varies across behavioural contexts depending on the absence or presence of a calling partner. Four research questions illustrate which analytical approaches are complementary versus orthogonal. For our data, circular statistics and categorical rhythms suggest that a calling partner affects a pup's call timing. Granger causality suggests that pups predictively adjust their call timing when interacting with a real partner. Lastly, the ADaptation and Anticipation Model estimates statistical parameters for a potential mechanism of temporal adaptation and anticipation. Our analytical complementary approach constitutes a proof of concept; it shows feasibility in applying typically unrelated techniques to seals to quantify vocal rhythmic interactivity across behavioural contexts. This article is part of a discussion meeting issue 'Face2face: advancing the science of social interaction'.

Original languageEnglish
Article number20210477
JournalPhilosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1875
Publication statusPublished - 24 Apr 2023

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
M.A. was supported by the Junior Fellowship of the Hanse-Wissenschaftskolleg (Institute for Advanced Study); The Comparative Bioacoustics Group is supported by Max Planck Independent Research Group Leader funding to A.R. Center for Music in the Brain is funded by the Danish National Research Foundation (DNRF117). Acknowledgements

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023 The Authors.

Copyright 2023 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.


  • asynchrony
  • categorical rhythms
  • interactive vocal rhythm
  • behavioural interaction
  • time-series analysis
  • circular statistics

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