Georgia State University researchers, analyzing the behavior of chimpanzees, concluded that they know how to use hand gestures to let other chimps know information, like where a good food source is located. The researchers published their findings in the journal Nature Communications.
The chimpanzees were tested by the researchers to see if the primates could relate to humans where food was hidden in an outdoors location, by using hand gestures to communicate the information. The researchers concluded that the chimpanzees could, indeed, get across this sort of information, This observation, that chimpanzees can communicate with other humans or fellow chimps through hand gestures where food was located, had never been noted before in previous studies.
The research was conducted at the Language Research Center at Georgia State University. Senior research scientist Charles Menzel selected two chimpanzees who had been trained to understand some English words and one human subject. The object of the experiment he and the other researchers who were involved in the study set up was to discover how, if at all, the chimpanzees would let the human know where food was hidden.
The human subject had no prior knowledge where the food was hidden. Menzel and the other researchers learned that the chimpanzees where able to use hand gestures, such as pointing, to let the human know where food was hidden.
The chimpanzees, in other words, were able to direct the human to where the hidden food was located. They were in control of the outcome, and they succeeded in their goal of communicating their knowledge to the human subject.
The chimpanzees had no restrictions placed upon them as to how they should try to communicate where the food was hidden to the human. The chimps were only supposed to be the ones to initiate any lines of communication about the food to the human subject, and use hand gestures like pointing to guide or direct the human right to where the food was located approximately 10 meters away. The results of the study show that chimpanzees are able to show clear intent with hand gestures, and that they know how to communicate and remember information at a relatively complex level.
One of the researchers, Anna Roberts of the University of Chester, theorizes that communicating knowledge through using hand gestures was probably an important step towards the development of languages among humans.
The chimpanzees displayed their ability to get across a message, and also to coordinate their actions with those of a species — humans — who don’t understand their vocalizations very well, in comparison — towards accomplishing a specific goal: finding and retrieving hidden food.
Chimpanzees, Menzel and his team of researchers found, can understand fairly complex means of communicating information, like the use of hand gestures, to not only relay that information to other chimpanzees, but also to humans. By studying how the pair of chimpanzees directed the human subject to find the hidden locations of food, researchers have also developed insights into the origins of language in humans.
Written by: Douglas Cobb