Automated interactive video playback for studies of animal communication. Academic Article uri icon


  • Video playback is a widely-used technique for the controlled manipulation and presentation of visual signals in animal communication. In particular, parameter-based computer animation offers the opportunity to independently manipulate any number of behavioral, morphological, or spectral characteristics in the context of realistic, moving images of animals on screen. A major limitation of conventional playback, however, is that the visual stimulus lacks the ability to interact with the live animal. Borrowing from video-game technology, we have created an automated, interactive system for video playback that controls animations in response to real-time signals from a video tracking system. We demonstrated this method by conducting mate-choice trials on female swordtail fish, Xiphophorus birchmanni. Females were given a simultaneous choice between a courting male conspecific and a courting male heterospecific (X. malinche) on opposite sides of an aquarium. The virtual male stimulus was programmed to track the horizontal position of the female, as courting males do in the wild. Mate-choice trials on wild-caught X. birchmanni females were used to validate the prototype's ability to effectively generate a realistic visual stimulus.

published proceedings

  • Journal of visualized experiments : JoVE

author list (cited authors)

  • Butkowski, T., Yan, W., Gray, A. M., Cui, R., Verzijden, M. N., & Rosenthal, G. G.

complete list of authors

  • Butkowski, T||Yan, W||Gray, AM||Cui, R||Verzijden, MN||Rosenthal, GG

publication date

  • December 2011