Study finds chimps can use gestures to communicate in hunt for food

January 17, 2014

Chimpanzees are capable of using gestures to communicate as they pursue specific goals, such as finding a hidden piece of food, according to a new Georgia State University research study.

Researchers at Georgia State University's Language Research Center examined how two language-trained chimpanzees communicated with a human experimenter to find food. Their results are the most compelling evidence to date that primates can use gestures to coordinate actions in pursuit of a specific goal.

The team devised a task that demanded coordination among the chimps and a human to find a piece of food that had been hidden in a large outdoor area. The human experimenter did not know where the food was hidden, and the chimpanzees used gestures such as pointing to guide the experimenter to the food.

Dr. Charles Menzel, a senior research scientist at the Language Research Center, said the design of the experiment with the "chimpanzee-as-director" created new ways to study the primate.

"It allows the chimpanzees to communicate information in the manner of their choosing, but also requires them to initiate and to persist in communication," Menzel said. "The chimpanzees used gestures to recruit the assistance of an otherwise uninformed person and to direct the person to hidden objects 10 or more meters away. Because of the openness of this paradigm, the findings illustrate the high level of intentionality chimpanzees are capable of, including their use of directional gestures. This study adds to our understanding of how well chimpanzees can remember and communicate about their environment."

The paper, "Chimpanzees Modify Intentional Gestures to Co-ordinate a Search for Hidden Food," has been published in Nature Communications. Academics at the University of Chester and University of Stirling collaborated on the research project.

Dr. Anna Roberts of the University of Chester said the findings are important.

"The use of gestures to coordinate joint activities such as finding food may have been an important building block in the evolution of language," she said.

Dr. Sarah-Jane Vick of the University of Stirling added, "Previous findings in both wild and captive chimpanzees have indicated flexibility in their gestural production, but the more complex coordination task used here demonstrates the considerable cognitive abilities that underpin chimpanzee communication."

Dr. Sam Roberts, also from the University of Chester, pointed out the analogy to childhood games.

"This flexible use of pointing, taking into account both the location of the food and the actions of the experimenter, has not been observed in chimpanzees before," Roberts said.
-end-
The project was supported by Leakey Foundation, the Wenner-Gren Foundation, National Institutes of Health, the Economic and Social Research Council, the British Academy, the Carnegie Trust for the Universities of Scotland and the University of Stirling.

Georgia State University

Related Chimpanzees Articles from Brightsurf:

Like humans, aging wild chimpanzees value their more "positive" friendships most
Like humans, wild chimpanzees focus on fewer yet more meaningful friendships as they grow older, say researchers who studied male chimps over two decades.

Like humans, chimpanzees can suffer for life if orphaned before adulthood
A new study from the Tai Chimpanzee Project in Ivory Coast and the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, shows that orphaned male chimpanzees are less competitive and have fewer offspring of their own than those who continue to live with their mothers.

For chimpanzees, salt and pepper hair not a marker of old age
Silver strands and graying hair is a sign of aging in humans, but things aren't so simple for our closest ape relatives--the chimpanzee.

In the wild, chimpanzees are more motivated to cooperate than bonobos
Scientists investigated cooperation dynamics in wild chimpanzees (Tai, Ivory Coast) and bonobos (LuiKotale, DCR) using a snake model.

A rare heart bone is discovered in chimpanzees
Experts from the University of Nottingham have discovered that some chimpanzees have a bone in their heart, which could be vital in managing their health and conservation.

In chimpanzees, females contribute to the protection of the territory
Researchers of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, extensively studied several neighboring groups of western chimpanzees and their findings reveal that females and even the entire group may play a more important role in between-group competition than previously thought.

Cultural diversity in chimpanzees
Termite fishing by chimpanzees was thought to occur in only two forms with one or multiple tools, from either above-ground or underground termite nests.

Similar to humans, chimpanzees develop slowly
Researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, have systematically investigated developmental milestones in wild chimpanzees of the Taï National Park (Ivory Coast) and found that they develop slowly, requiring more than five years to reach key motor, communication and social milestones.

The genome of chimpanzees and gorillas could help to better understand human tumors
A new study by researchers from the Institute of Evolutionary Biology (IBE), a joint center of UPF and the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC), shows that, surprisingly, the distribution of mutations in human tumors is more similar to that of chimpanzees and gorillas than that of humans.

Crops provide chimpanzees with more energy than wild foods
A University of Kent study has found that cultivated foods offer chimpanzees in West Africa more energetic benefits than wild foods available in the region.

Read More: Chimpanzees News and Chimpanzees Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.