Skip to content

Research at St Andrews

Great ape gestures. Intentional communication with a rich set of innate signals

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

DOI

Open Access permissions

Open

Author(s)

Richard William Byrne, E. Cartmill, E. Genty, Kirsty Emma Graham, Catherine Louise Hobaiter, J. Tanner

School/Research organisations

Abstract

Great apes give gestures deliberately and voluntarily, in order to influence particular target audiences, whose direction of attention they take into account when choosing which type of gesture to use. These facts make the study of ape gesture directly relevant to understanding the evolutionary precursors of human language; here we present an assessment of ape gesture from that perspective, focusing on the work of the “St Andrews Group” of researchers. Intended meanings of ape gestures are relatively few and simple. As with human words, ape gestures often have several distinct meanings, which are effectively disambiguated by behavioural context. Compared to the signalling of most other animals, great ape gestural repertoires are large. Because of this, and the relatively small number of intended meanings they achieve, ape gestures are redundant, with extensive overlaps in meaning. The great majority of gestures are innate, in the sense that the species’ biological inheritance includes the potential to develop each gestural form and use it for a specific range of purposes. Moreover, the phylogenetic origin of many gestures is relatively old, since gestures are extensively shared between different genera in the great ape family. Acquisition of an adult repertoire is a process of first exploring the innate species potential for many gestures and then gradual restriction to a final (active) repertoire that is much smaller. No evidence of syntactic structure has yet been detected.
Close

Details

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)755-769
JournalAnimal Cognition
Volume20
Issue number4
Early online date13 May 2017
DOIs
StatePublished - Jul 2017

    Research areas

  • Gesture repertoire, Gesture meaning, Gesture ontogeny, Gesture phylogeny

Discover related content
Find related publications, people, projects and more using interactive charts.

View graph of relations

Related by author

Related by journal

  1. What's in a voice? Dolphins do not use voice cues for individual recognition

    Sayigh, L., Wells, R. & Janik, V. M. Nov 2017 In : Animal Cognition. 20, 6, p. 1067-1079

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

  2. Cooperative problem solving in giant otters (Pteronura brasiliensis) and Asian small-clawed otters (Aonyx cinerea)

    Schmelz, M., Duguid, S., Bohn, M. & Voelter, C. J. 24 Aug 2017 In : Animal Cognition. First Online, 8 p.

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

  3. Conservatism and "copy-if-better" in chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes)

    van Leeuwen, E. J. C. & Call, J. May 2017 In : Animal Cognition. 20, 3, p. 575-579 5 p.

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

  4. Does social environment influence learning ability in a family-living lizard?

    Riley, J. L., Noble, D. W. A., Byrne, R. W. & Whiting, M. J. May 2017 In : Animal Cognition. 20, 3, p. 449-458

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Related by journal

  1. Animal Cognition (Journal)

    Healy, S. D. (Member of editorial board)
    2015 → …

    Activity: Publication peer-review and editorial workEditor of research journal

  2. Animal Cognition (Journal)

    Janik, V. (Member of editorial board)
    2004 → …

    Activity: Publication peer-review and editorial workEditor of research journal

ID: 249965298