Monday, 16 May 2011

Chimpanzees use at least 66 gestures to convey their intentions

School of Psychology researchers, Dr Catherine Hobaiter and Professor Richard Byrne, have identified at least 66 gestures that chimpanzees use to communicate with each other. Hobaiter spent two years studying and filming a large group of chimpanzees in Uganda, the first systematic study of their gesture in the wild. Shorter-term studies in captivity had suggested that each individual’s repertoire was different, but the new work has showed that these were just ‘subsets’ of the natural repertoire of all chimpanzees. In fact, the gestures of other members of the great ape family overlap: 24 chimpanzee gestures are the same in gorillas and orangutans, too. But, unlike most natural communication systems of animals, this ‘biological’ repertoire is used in an intentional way: chimpanzees target specific audiences, tailor their choice of gesture to whether they’re already attending (silent, visual) or not (contact), and persist and elaborate their gesturing if the target does not get the message. The next stage of the project is to determine what each of the gestures means.