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Chimps use gestures to communicate in hunt for food

Press Trust of India  |  Washington 

Chimpanzees use hand gestures to help each other find food, a new study has found.

The finding is the most compelling evidence to date that primates can use gestures to coordinate actions in pursuit of a specific goal.

Researchers at State University's Language Research Center examined how two language-trained chimpanzees communicated with a human experimenter to find food.

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.

"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," Dr Charles Menzel, a senior research scientist at the Language Research Center.

"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," Menzel said.

"The use of gestures to coordinate joint activities such as finding food may have been an important building block in the evolution of language," Dr Anna Roberts of the University of Chester said.

"Previous findings in both wild and captive chimpanzees have indicated flexibility in their gestural production, but the more complex coordination task used here demonstrates the considerable cognitive abilities that underpin chimpanzee communication," Dr Sarah-Jane Vick of the University of Stirling added.

The study was published in the journal Nature Communications.

First Published: Sun, January 19 2014. 15:35 IST