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Symbolic communication is exchange of messages that change a priori expectation of events. Examples of this are modern communication technology and the exchange of information amongst animals. By referring to objects and ideas not present at the time of communication, a world of possibility is opened. In humans, this process has been compounded to result in our current state of modernity.
In animal societies, symbolic communication helps one understand the conduct of members of cooperating groups. The behavior of weaver ant workers has been carefully studied and it has been found that communicative gestures with respect to members of the same colony are different from those used with intruders. The interpretation of the symbolic dance of honey bees as a communicative language has been questioned by a few, though numerous experimental results over the last several decades have effectively laid this controversy to rest.
An example of symbolic communication in humans is the wearing of uniforms. A man in a white coat with a stethoscope will often be perceived as a doctor on the basis of his appearance alone. Military uniforms have badges and insignias which indicate rank and honours as well as their branch of operation. Humans are the only species who use a symbolic language
- Gärdenfors, Peter (2004). "13Cooperation and the Evolution of Symbolic Communication" (PDF). Evolution of Communication Systems: 237.
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