The 81st Annual Meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (2012)

The effect of age on gestural communication in captive bonobos


1Department of Zoology, Miami University, 2Department of Anthropology, Miami University

Friday All day, Plaza Level Add to calendar

Research on the origins of human language and its potential antecedents in primate communication has focused on vocal communication. However, there has been a recent resurgence of interest in the role of gesture, especially in the great apes. This study sought to examine the influence of age on the frequency, type, and context of gestures performed by a captive group of bonobos, Pan paniscus. In addition we examined how age influences the frequency of tactile and non-tactile gestures. It was hypothesized that because infants are frequently more physically active than adults, they would have a higher frequency of gesture, and that because a great deal of infants’ time is spent in play, most gestures would be performed in that context. The twelve bonobo subjects were housed at the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Gardens. Over a nine-week period of study, 2177 gestures were recorded. Twenty-nine distinct gesture types were observed within seven contexts. All occurrence focal (small) group sampling was used to collect data. A Kruskal-Wallis test indicated that infants gesture at significantly higher rates than sub-adults or adults. Finally, the ethogram was divided into tactile and non-tactile gestures. A Chi-square test demonstrated that infants use tactile gestures significantly more than they use non-tactile gestures. This is the first study to focus on the effect of age on gestural communication in Pan paniscus and adds to the growing body of research on gestural communication in great apes.

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