Interspecific Communication - INTERCOM

(ASG 2020-2021)

How humans and other animal species communicate across species boundaries

Social animals (including human beings) do not exclusively communicate with conspecifics but also with individuals from other species to establish and maintain social relations, to express emotions, and to share information. For instance, interactions between companion animals and their human caretakers are common, and research findings suggest that these interactions are socially and semantically meaningful and, with that, beneficial for our health and wellbeing. 

The communicative signals sent out by humans and other animals contain cues about the physical, emotional, intentional and arousal state of the signaler. According to some theories, these signals may be universal, and therefore potentially intelligible to other species. However, these theories are, as yet, too general which makes it impossible to confirm or falsify them as long as sufficient empirical findings on interspecific communication are lacking. Today, interspecific communication is a growing field of research with many open questions. 

The goal of this ASG is to take stock of current issues in the field, discuss these from a cross-disciplinary perspective, and formulate new questions for future research, including the following:

- which mechanisms play a role in interspecific communication?
- which are the channels (vocal, tactile, olfactory, visual) through which this communication takes place?
- are there differences in communication between human beings and domesticated, wild and feral animals?
- which signals are universal, and how are they used in interspecific communication?
- which aspects of interspecific communication are innate and which are acquired?
- how does interspecific communication affect the relation between the species involved, and how does it affect social and cognitive development in children? 
- which are the similarities and differences between interspecific communication and communication with autonomous social agents such as robots and avatars? 

The ASG team is truly cross-disciplinary with members from Lund University faculties of medicine, the social sciences, natural sciences, humanities and theology, and from the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences. Together they will arrange internal and external seminars, invite researchers from the field to share their expertise and have discussions. The ultimate goal of the group is to formulate a number of well-defined research questions and to propose suitable methods to answer these.