23.02.2017 - 10:50
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Gestural communication between mothers and infants

by Paul Kuchenbuch

This project investigates the development of gestural communication in wild bonobos. Gestural abilities have received a great amount of research attention in recent years, due to the hypothesis that gesture played a major role in language evolution. In addition, studies on captive bonobos and other great ape species provided evidence that this channel of communication shows the highest degree of similarity to human language. However, virtually nothing is known about gestural communication in bonobos in their natural environments.

The study aims to fill this gap by analyzing videotaped interactions of bonobo mothers and infants in selected behavioral contexts. The main focus lies in the following cognitive domains:

  1. intentionality
  2. referentiality and
  3. acquisition of gestures.

As bonobos, together with chimpanzees, are the closest living relatives of humans, knowing the role gestures play under active selection pressures is essential for understanding the phylogeny of cognitive building blocks required for human language.

* The project is part of a program by the Humboldt Research Group Comparative Gestural Signalling at the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology, Seewiesen.