Understanding Apes’ Gestures Is Possible For Humans, Study Finds

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Researchers claim that despite not using gestures themselves, humans are able to comprehend those produced by other great apes. A video-based investigation that St Andrews University researchers conducted and released on Tuesday led to this conclusion by having volunteers translate ape motions.Researchers examined people’s comprehension of the 10 most typical gestures performed by chimpanzees and bonobos in this study, which was published in the academic journal PLOS Biology.The study further stated that the experts crowdsourced data from 5,656 participants through an online game, which required them to select the meaning of chimpanzee and bonobo gestures in 20 videos.”We show that humans may retain an understanding of ape gestural communication (either directly inherited or part of more general cognition), across gesture types and gesture meanings, with information on communicative context providing only a marginal improvement in success.”The researchers said that they accessed part of the great ape gestural repertoire for the first time in adult humans.”Cognitive access to an ancestral system of gesture appears to have been retained after our divergence from other apes, drawing deep evolutionary continuity between their communication and our own.”Lead researcher, Dr Kirsty Graham from St. Andrews University said: “All great apes use gestures, but humans are so gestural – using gestures while we speak and sign, learning new gestures, pantomiming etc – that it’s really hard to pick out shared great ape gestures just by observing people.” “By showing participants videos of common great ape gestures instead, we found that people can understand these gestures, suggesting that they may form part of an evolutionarily ancient, shared gesture vocabulary across all great ape species, including us.”The co-author of the study, Dr. Catherine Hobaiter, said: “On one hand, it’s really incredible that we’re able to do this – Kirsty and I have spent years living in the forest with chimpanzees and bonobos and working hard to study their communication.””But it turns out that perhaps we didn’t need to! We can decode these gestures almost instinctively. It’s a useful reminder that we are also great apes! And that, even though today modern humans have language, we’ve kept some understanding of our shared ancestral system of ape communication.”