Zanna Clay, PhD

Postdoctoral Fellow

My research interests encompass three main themes: communication, emotion and development. I am especially motivated to understand the dynamic relationship between them, for instance the role that emotional processing plays in perception and comprehension of vocalisations, the development of signaling in non-human primates and how emotion regulation and empathy develop. I am also interested in a comparative approach to language evolution. While my current focus has been on great apes, I aim to extend this to children in future work.

My current project focuses on post-conflict interactions in bonobos in order to explore the roots of consolation, emotion regulation and the interplay between communication and empathic-responding (i. e. the role vocal and other signals play in eliciting bystanders to approach to comfort or support victims). I am currently examining consolation in bonobos, housed at Lola ya Bonobo Sanctuary, DR Congo. I am also exploring the development of emotional responding and emotion regulation in bonobos, and finding that from the age of infancy, bonobos are actively responding to distress in others.

I completed my PhD at the University of St Andrews with Prof Klaus Zuberbühler, studying vocal communication in bonobos. Using two key contexts, food discovery and sexual interactions, I explored evidence for some of the roots and underlying scaffolding which may have supported language evolution. I focused on bonobos (Pan paniscus) as despite being our closest living relatives, very little is still understood about them. Combining playback experiments and observational studies I addressed a number of questions examining how they use vocalisations as tools to navigate their social and physical landscapes. These include the production and comprehension of natural call sequences to convey information about food quality, the social use of copulation calls and the effects of audience presence on call production. I aim to continue my interests in studying the evolution of vocal communication and language, and to broader across other primate and non-human animals.

Recent Publications

Clay, Z. & Zuberbühler, K. (in prep.) Social awareness in chimpanzees and bonobos: Insights from studies of vocal communication. In: The Social Origins of Language. Oxford University Press.
Kita, S., Clay, Z., Pople, S., & Hood, B. (in prep.) Four-year old children segment and linearize information in a silent gestural communication task.
Clay, Z. & de Waal, F. B. M. (2013). Bonobos respond to distress in others: Consolation across the age spectrum. PLoS One, 8, e55206. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0055206
Clay, Z. & Zuberbühler, K. (2012). Communication during sex among female bonobos: Effects of dominance, solicitation and audience. Scientific Reports, 2, 291. doi:10.1038/srep00291
Clay, Z., Smith, C. L., & Blumstein, D. T. (2012). Food-associated vocalizations in mammals and birds: What do these calls really mean? Animal Behaviour, 88, 323-327. doi:10.1016/j.anbehav.2011.12.008
Clay, Z. & Iacoboni, M. (2011). Mirroring fictional others. In E. Schellekens & P. Goldie (Eds.), The aesthetic mind: Philosophy and psychology (pp. 313-329). New York, NY: Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199691517.003.0019
Clay, Z. (2011). Girl power: The roots of female dominance and bonding in bonobos. Radical Anthropology, 5, 5-11.
Clay, Z. & Zuberbühler, K. (2011b). The structure of bonobo copulation calls during reproductive and non-reproductive sex. Ethology, 117, 1158- 1169. doi:10.1111/j.1439-0310.2011.01975.x
Clay, Z., Pika, S., Gruber, T., & Zuberbühler, K. (2011). Female bonobos use copulation calls as social signals. Biology Letters, 7, 513- 516. doi:10.1098/rsbl.2010.1227
Clay, Z. & Zuberbühler, K. (2011a). Bonobos extract meaning from call sequences. PLoS One, 6, e18786. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0018786
Gruber, T., Clay, Z., & Zuberbühler, K. (2010). A comparison of bonobo and chimpanzee tool use: Evidence for a female bias in the Pan lineage. Animal Behaviour, 80, 1023-1033. doi:10.1016/j.anbehav.2010.09.005
Clay, Z. & Zuberbühler, K. (2009). Food associated calling sequences in captive bonobos. Animal Behaviour, 77, 1387-1396. doi:10.1016/j.anbehav.2009.02.016

Last updated: Oct 2, 2012