Humans can understand the gestures of chimpanzees and bonobos


Humans retain the understanding of the gestures made by other great apes, even if we no longer use them, reveals a study from the University of St. Andrews published in PLOS Biology.

The discovery of the gestures used by great apes provides the first evidence of intentional communication outside of human language. and more than 80 such signals have now been identified.

Many of these gestures are common to all non-human apes, including more distant relatives such as chimpanzees and orangutans. However, despite the fact that humans are more closely related to chimpanzees and bonobos, these simian gestures are no longer believed to be present in human communication.

Researchers Kirsty E. Graham and Catherine Hobaiter tested understanding of the 10 most common gestures of chimpanzees (‘Pan troglodytes’) and bonobos (‘Pan paniscus’) through an online game. More than 5,500 participants were asked to watch 20 short videos of ape gestures and select the meaning of the gesture among four possible answers.

The results were much better than would be expected by chance: more than 50% of the participants correctly interpreted the meaning of the chimpanzee and bonobo gestures. Provide participants with contextual information about what the apes were doing in the video their percentage of correct answers in interpreting the meaning of the gesture only increased marginally.

Video playback experiments have traditionally been used to assess language comprehension in non-human primates, but this study reversed the paradigm to assess for the first time the ability of humans to understand the gestures of their closest living relatives.

The results suggest that even if we no longer use these gestures, we may have retained our understanding of this ancient communication system. The authors say it remains unclear whether our ability to understand gestures specific to great apes is inherited or whether humans and other great apes share the ability to interpret meaningful cues. due to their general intelligence, physical resemblance, and similar social goals.

Graham adds it’s a statement that “all great apes use gestures, but humans are so gestural (we use gestures while talking and signing, learning new gestures, miming, etc. – it’s really hard to pick a gesture) that it’s very difficult to identify common gestures.” of great apes watching people.

“By showing participants videos of common great ape gestures, we found that they can be understood by people, suggesting that they may be part of an evolutionarily ancient gestural vocabulary shared by all great ape species, including us.” .

The authors also include a link in which a trial version of the experiment can be performed.