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Closer than we think? Ape gestures.

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In the cognitive psychology element of the AS we look at the case study of Washoe by Gardner and Gardner investigating if it is possible for a chimp to learn sign language like humans. This has been an argument going on for a long time in psychology as it could have implications and bring our nearest human relatives that little bit closer.

Researchers in the US say they have firm evidence that apes communicate using gestures – shedding light on the development of human language.  The team analysed the way bonobos and chimpanzees used hand and limb gestures to make themselves understood.

The scientists found the apes used gestures more flexibly than the way they used facial and vocal expressions. They say the findings support the theory that human language developed through the use of hand gestures. [quote]

The team comprised researchers from Yerkes Primate Center, at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia. It found ape groups developed different gestures to say different things and that meanings depended on context.

If this research is correct then this does show that this ability to learn gestures distinguishes apes from monkeys and most other species on the planet. Although all primates use vocal and facial expressions to communicate, only the great apes – chimpanzees, bonobos, orang-utan and gorillas – use gestures as well, an ability they share with humans.

This is well worth keeping our eyes on as it shows that chimps in the wild are creating and using their own form of sign language, which I personally find much more interesting than being taught it through reinforcement by humans. The learning of a taught language is something; but being able to formulate and develop their own is something else.

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