Humans are better at understanding other apes than thinking, study finds | animal behavior


We may not be able to talk, discuss politics, or discuss the meaning of life with other great apes, but our ability to understand each other may be greater than we think.

Researchers have found that adults can distinguish the meaning of gestures made by bonobos and chimpanzees, even if they don’t use the gestures themselves.

“It seems to be an innate ability in our species. [as other apes]said Dr Kirsty Graham, first author of the study from the University of St Andrews in Scotland.

Writing in the journal PLoS Biology, Graham and his colleague Dr. Kathryn Hobeiter note that intentional communication, in which one person conveys meaning to another, is a feature of human languages, but rare in other species. .

Since intentional communication is unlikely to have arisen in humans through a single genetic jump, our evolutionary ancestors may have used a simpler form. Indeed, modern great ape species are known to use gestures to communicate their goals. Now, researchers have found that adults show a surprising level of understanding of such gestures.

The pair came to the conclusion when they analyzed data from 5,656 participants in an online game where they were shown 20 videos of chimpanzees and bonobos making the 10 most common gestures, such as “marry me” and “give me this food.” . and accompanied by an illustration of the “Let’s Make Love” gesture.

Some gestures had a single meaning, while others had multiple meanings depending on the context of the gesture.

Participants were randomly assigned to view gestures with or without text indicating what the monkeys were doing before the gesture, such as eating or resting, and were asked to choose the correct meaning from four possible responses.

The results showed that participants performed better than chance at correctly interpreting the meaning of chimpanzee and bonobo gestures whether contextual information was provided or not, with an average success rate of 57% when information was provided and 52% otherwise. Moreover, the results were valid regardless of whether the gesture had one or more meanings.

“Gestures and vowels [of our ancestors] “Probably modern human gestures and human language today,” Graham said. “Such studies, and [the research in infants]It makes us more confident that it could be something that was our last common ancestor [with other great apes] could do. »

While the team says it’s unclear how such gestures are understood in great ape species, including humans, one possibility is that understanding is the result of similar bodies, social goals, and the ability to understand meaning—a few gestures that resemble the desired outcome may help.

“He is [could be] an inherited ability rather than an inherited vocabulary,” Graham said.

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