A new study has found that humans retain a memory of gestural ‘language’ used by other great apes such as chimpanzees.
Online tests show that we still retain a memory of gestures used by the great apes, whose discovery provided the first evidence of intentional communication outside of human language, according to a study by University of St Andrews researchers.
More than 80 such signals have now been identified.
Many of these movements are shared with nonhuman apes, including distantly related apes such as chimpanzees and orangutans.
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Kirsty E. Graham of the University of St Andrews says, “All great apes use gestures, but humans are so gestural – they use gestures when we talk and point, learn new gestures, do pantomimes, etc. – it’s really hard to pick out the great ape shared by just observing humans. movements.”
“Instead, by showing participants videos of common great ape movements, we found that humans were able to understand these gestures, and suggested that these gestures may form part of an evolutionarily ancient, shared lexicon of gestures in all great ape species, including ourselves.”
Using an online game, the researchers tested people’s understanding of the 10 most common gestures used by chimpanzees and bonobos.
More than 5,500 participants were asked to watch 20 short videos of monkey movements and choose the meaning of the movement from among four possible answers.
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They found that participants performed significantly better than expected by chance, interpreting the meaning of chimpanzee and bonobo gestures correctly more than 50% of the time.
Video playback experiments have traditionally been used to test language comprehension in non-human primates, but this study reversed the paradigm to assess humans’ ability to understand the gestures of their closest living relatives for the first time.
The results suggest that even though we no longer use these gestures, we may be understanding this ancestral communication system.
It remains unclear whether our ability to understand certain great ape movements is inherited, or whether humans and other great apes share the ability to interpret meaningful signals due to their general intelligence, physical similarity, and similar social goals.