Lost in the wild? Chimps can show you the way

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Lost in the wild? Chimps can show you the way

Chimpanzees are capable of initiating communication and use directional gestures.


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Published: Sun 19 Jan 2014, 1:39 PM

Last updated: Fri 3 Apr 2015, 6:52 PM

If you ever get lost in a rain forest, don’t fret. Just use your gestures to ask a chimp in the jungle and it may help you find food or even your way home, a study suggests.

A team of researchers from the US and Britain have found that chimps can use gestures to communicate with humans in pursuit of a specific goal.

The findings, published in the journal “Nature Communications”, showed that chimpanzees are capable of initiating communication and use directional gestures.

”This study adds to our understanding of how well chimpanzees can remember and communicate about their environment,” said Charles Menzel, a senior research scientist at Georgia State University in the US.

Academics at the University of Chester and University of Stirling in Britain also collaborated on the research project.

For their experiment, the team of researchers devised a task that demanded coordination among the chimps and a human to find a piece of food that had been hidden in a large outdoor area.

The human participant did not know where the food was hidden. But with the chimpanzees around, he had no difficulty in finding the food as the chimps used gestures, such as pointing, to guide him to the food.

”The chimpanzees used gestures to recruit the assistance of an otherwise uninformed person and to direct the person to hidden objects 10 or more metres away,” Menzel said.

Anna Roberts of the University of Chester said the findings can shed new light on how languages evolved.

”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.

Said Sarah-Jane Vick of University of Stirling: “Previous findings in 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.”

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