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Chimpanzee communication

Chimps call out audible alarms in tactical context, just like humans

Tuesday, October 29, 2013 by: J. D. Heyes
Tags: chimpanzee communication, audible alarms, human language

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(NaturalNews) New research shows that chimps share more human qualities that previously known, including using audible sounds and alarms when it is tactically necessary.

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.

Behavior indicates alarm calls were intentional

As reported by Futurity:

The new study, published in PLOS ONE, challenges this view and shows that chimpanzees do not just alarm call because they are frightened of a predator; instead, they appear to produce certain alarm calls intentionally in a tactical and goal directed way.

Researchers in Uganda presented a moving snake model to chimpanzees in the wild, then monitored their behavioral and vocal responses. The scientists found that the chimps were much more likely to produce alarm calls when close friends were in the vicinity. They also examined and monitored group members before and during the production of calls; critically, the chimps continued to call until all group members were safely out of the reach of the predator.

In sum, these behaviors seem to show that the calls are intentionally produced in a bid to warn others of danger.

"These behaviors indicate that these alarm calls were produced intentionally to warn others of danger and thus the study shows a key similarity in the mechanisms involved in the production of chimpanzee vocalizations and human language," says study co-leader Katie Slocombe of the psychology department at the University of York.

"Our results demonstrate that certain vocalizations of our closest living relatives qualify as intentional signals, in a directly comparable way to many great ape gestures, indicating that language may have originated from a multimodal vocal-gestural communication system," she added.

'It was particularly striking...'

Anne Schel, another co-leader of the study who is also a member of York's psychology department, said she was intrigued to see the chimps react to the model of the snake.

"It was particularly striking when new individuals, who had not seen the snake yet, arrived in the area: if a chimpanzee who had actually seen the snake enjoyed a close friendship with this arriving individual, they would give alarm calls, warning their friend of the danger," she said. "It really seemed the chimpanzees directed their alarm calls at specific individuals."

The team of scientists worked with wild chimps at the Sonso field site of the Budongo Conservation Field Station in Budongo Forest Reserve in the nation of Uganda. In addition to the York team, scientists from Budongo Conservation Field Station, the University of Zurich, Harvard University, the University of Neuchatel and the University of St. Andrews also participated.





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