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Like soldiers on patrol, chimps use hand signals to communicate during food hunts

Thursday, January 23, 2014 by: J. D. Heyes
Tags: chimpanzees, hand signals, primate communication

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(NaturalNews) Scientists have figured out that chimps use gestures and such to communicate with each other during hunts for food.

According to researchers at Georgia State University, it is similar to the game humans play called "warmer/colder," where one person uses those words to guide the other person to a hidden toy or treat.

Scientists at the university's Language Research Center "examined how two language-trained chimpanzees communicated with a human experimenter to find food," says a press release from the school. "Their results are the most compelling evidence to date that primates can use gestures to coordinate actions in pursuit of a specific goal."

'Chimps can communicate in a manner of their choosing'

The research team created a task that called for coordination among a group of chimps and a human in order to find a piece of food that had been hidden in a large outdoor area. The human experimenter was not aware of where the food was hidden, and the chimps used gestures like pointing to guide the experimenter to where the food had been stashed.

Senior research scientist Dr. Charles Menzel of the Language Research Center said the experiment's design with the "chimpanzee-as-director" managed to create mew ways in which to study primates.

"It allows the chimpanzees to communicate information in the manner of their choosing, but also requires them to initiate and to persist in communication," Menzel said. "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."

The team's research paper, "Chimpanzees Modify Intentional Gestures to Co-ordinate a Search for Hidden Food," was published in the journal Nature Communications. Academics at the University of Chester in Great Britain and the University of Stirling in Scotland also collaborated on the project. In addition, the U.S. National Institutes of Health and the Leakey Foundation contributed funding and support.

Dr. Anna Roberts of the University of Chester said the findings 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 said.

And 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."

Dr. Sam Roberts, also from the University of Chester, pointed out the analogy to childhood games: "This flexible use of pointing, taking into account both the location of the food and the actions of the experimenter, has not been observed in chimpanzees before."

Did human language evolve?

As Natural News has reported, chimps are also capable of calling out audible alarms in a tactical sense.

According to top research news site Futurity, researchers from the University of York, in England, "say the alarm calls of wild chimpanzees have the hallmarks of intentional communication."

A number of scientists have long considered non-human primate vocalizations to be largely emotional, such as alarm calls which are just an expression of fear. They argue that such sounds are not made intentionally, in sharp contrast to human language and "great ape gestural signals."

That has some scientists suggesting that human language might have evolved from a similar primitive gestural communication system instead of a vocal one.




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