What Is Communication

As we shall see below, defining communication is not straightforward and has been the subject of considerable debate. However, there are three readily identifiable components of communication: (1) the signal, (2) the signaler, and (3) the receiver.

Signal. The signal is the information carrier and is often categorized by the sense used to detect the signal (signal modality, see below). For example, a frog's call is an acoustic signal and the flash of a firefly is a visual signal.

Signaler. The signaler is the animal producing a signal, for example, a calling frog, or flashing firefly. Signalers are also referred to as senders, generators, and actors.

Receiver. The receiver is any animal picking up the signal, for example, another frog, or firefly, and they do not have to be the same species as the signaler. Receivers are also referred to as detectors or reactors.

The Relationship between the Three Components

The relationship between these components is usually portrayed as the signaler produces the signal that is received by the receiver. This is the simplest possible form of communication, but this simple form probably only occurs rarely in natural communication systems. An important complexity of natural systems is that several individuals can be involved in communication, resulting in a communication network (Figure 1), rather than a dyad of one signaler and one receiver. A second aspect of the complexity of natural systems is that an individual can change dynamically between the roles of signaler and receiver, and may be capable of simultaneous signaling and reception.

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