ATLANTA, Ga. (CBS Atlanta) – A new study has found that chimpanzees use gestures to coordinate actions in pursuit of food.

A research team at Georgia State University’s Language Research Center examined how chimpanzees communicated with a human experimenter to find food.

Researchers created a task where a piece of food was hidden in a large outdoor area in which the a human experimenter did not know where the food was hidden.  In order to lead the human experimenter to the food, the chimpanzees used gestures.

“It allows the chimpanzees to communicate information in the manner of their choosing, but also requires them to initiate and to persist in communication,” Dr. Charles Menzel, a senior research scientist at the Language Research Center said to “The chimpanzees used gestures to recruit the assistance of an otherwise uninformed person and to direct the person to hidden objects 10 or more meters away. Because of the openness of this paradigm, the findings illustrate the high level of intentionality chimpanzees are capable of, including their use of directional gestures. This study adds to our understanding of how well chimpanzees can remember and communicate about their environment.”

Researchers from the University of Chester and University of Stirling also assisted on this research project.

Dr. Anna Roberts of the University of Chester shared that the findings about the chimpanzees are important.

“The use of gestures to coordinate joint activities such as finding food may have been an important building block in the evolution of language,” she explained.

Dr. Sarah-Jane Vick of the University of Stirling added, “Previous findings in both wild and captive chimpanzees have indicated flexibility in their gestural production, but the more complex coordination task used here demonstrates the considerable cognitive abilities that underpin chimpanzee communication.”

The study has been published in Nature Communications.


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