Researchers at Georgia State University’s Language Research Center examined how two language-trained chimpanzees communicated with a human experimenter to find food. Their results are the most compelling evidence to date that primates can use gestures to coordinate actions in pursuit of a specific goal.
The team 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 experimenter did not know where the food was hidden, and the chimpanzees used gestures such as pointing to guide the experimenter to the food.
Dr. Charles Menzel, a senior research scientist at the Language Research Center, said the design of the experiment with the “chimpanzee-as-director” created new ways to study the primate.
“It allows the chimpanzees to communicate information in the manner of their choosing, but also requires them to initiate and to persist in communication,” Menzel said. “The chimpanzees used gestures to recruit the assistance of an otherwise uninformed person and to direct the person to hidden objects 10 or more meters away. Because of the openness of this paradigm, the findings illustrate the high level of intentionality chimpanzees are capable of, including their use of directional gestures. This study adds to our understanding of how well chimpanzees can remember and communicate about their environment.”
Interesting. When dogs do it, they point with their noses, of course, and it is in fact called “pointing” [hunting is generally boring; the dog only gets interesting at about 1:52 when we can see how she communicates when she has picked up a scent. While she was taught this routine for work with humans, it clearly originates in canine signals to each other.]:
The really remarkable thing is that dogs can interpret human hand gestures better than chimps, even though dogs don’t have hands and chimps do. This may reflect the greater need the dog senses – to understand what humans are trying to communicate.
Information is immaterial in character, though mediated by material media. Do animals then create information when they send signals to each other containing new information?
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