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Open Access Research article

Sex-specific asymmetries in communication sound perception are not related to hand preference in an early primate

Marina Scheumann12* and Elke Zimmermann12

Author Affiliations

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

2 Center for Systems Neuroscience, Bünteweg 17, 30559 Hannover, Germany

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BMC Biology 2008, 6:3  doi:10.1186/1741-7007-6-3

Published: 16 January 2008

Abstract

Background

Left hemispheric dominance of language processing and handedness, previously thought to be unique to humans, is currently under debate. To gain an insight into the origin of lateralization in primates, we have studied gray mouse lemurs, suggested to represent the most ancestral primate condition. We explored potential functional asymmetries on the behavioral level by applying a combined handedness and auditory perception task. For testing handedness, we used a forced food-grasping task. For testing auditory perception, we adapted the head turn paradigm, originally established for exploring hemispheric specializations in conspecific sound processing in Old World monkeys, and exposed 38 subjects to control sounds and conspecific communication sounds of positive and negative emotional valence.

Results

The tested mouse lemur population did not show an asymmetry in hand preference or in orientation towards conspecific communication sounds. However, males, but not females, exhibited a significant right ear-left hemisphere bias when exposed to conspecific communication sounds of negative emotional valence. Orientation asymmetries were not related to hand preference.

Conclusion

Our results provide the first evidence for sex-specific asymmetries for conspecific communication sound perception in non-human primates. Furthermore, they suggest that hemispheric dominance for communication sound processing evolved before handedness and independently from each other.