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

Social relationships influence gestural communication in wild chimpanzees


Department of Anthropology, University of Michigan

Thursday 10:00-10:15, Galleria South Add to calendar

Several theories exist about how, when, and why language evolved. The gestural hypothesis of language origins theory suggests that the use of gestures played an important role in the evolution of language. Nevertheless, few data exist regarding how our closest living relatives, chimpanzees, use gestures in their natural social and environmental settings. To fill this gap in knowledge, I conducted an 18 month field study investigating gestural communication by wild chimpanzees in an unusually large community at Ngogo, Kibale National Park, Uganda. While carrying out focal animal observations of 29 adult males, 12 adolescent males, 39 adult females, and 16 adolescent females, I collected data concerning who signaled with whom, the frequency of usage, and the responses elicited by gestures. Another goal of this research was to test hypotheses designed to examine the effects of social relationships on gesturing behavior. Results showed that adult males used and responded to gestures with each other more often than they did with adolescents or females. Additional results revealed that adult males used and responded to gestures frequently with other males with whom they formed strong bonds compared with those individuals with whom they shared weaker bonds. These findings provide some of the very first information about the influence of social relationships on gestural communication by wild chimpanzees and furnish a basis for evaluating the gestural hypothesis of language origins.

This study was funded by the Wenner-Gren Foundation, grant N010731 and L.S.B. Leakey Foundation Grant.

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