Humans Guess Gestures Made by Apes, Study Shows

The great apes include the bonobos, orangutans, gorillas, and chimpanzees. Credit: Wikimedia/Alain Houle (Harvard University)

As per a recent study in PLOS Biology, scientists state that humans and apes have common gestures used for communication. The study was led by Dr. Kirsty Graham of St. Andrews University in Scotland. According to the study, the use of gestures for communication is common between humans and other ape species.

Until now, scientists always assumed that a common method of communicating through gestures might exist in our last shared ancestor. However, the study led by Dr. Graham found evidence in support. The study led to understand the origin of language. It reports that our ancestors used gestures, and this was gradually used for communication.

The team of scientists watched apes for many years using video playback experiments. They found that apes use more than 80 different motions to communicate with each other. These gestures together make a big vocabulary. For example, apes communicate with each other through messages like “groom me” with a long scratching gesture. The motion of a mouth stroke means “give me that food.”

In the study, the trained scientists first had to know the meaning of each gesture themselves. Then, the videos were shown to human volunteers. It was seen that humans could understand the gestures used by apes for communication. Volunteers had to select from a multiple-choice list of meanings for each gesture used. The scientists found that human volunteers could correctly guess the meaning of each gesture made by apes over 50% of the time. Rather, humans could guess the gestures almost instinctively.

According to Dr. Graham, these gestures could be understood by humans because there exists an ancient, common vocabulary of gestures for communication among all great ape species, including us. This study was certainly interesting, as the evolution of communication was better understood by scientists – involving humans and apes!

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