Great apes communicate cooperatively, like humans

Great apes gesture in a way that mirrors the back-and-forth of a human conversation.

By Brooks Hays
Great apes communicate cooperatively, like humans
New research shows great apes employ a back-and-forth style of cooperative communication similar to human conversations. Photo by M. Fröhlich/MPG

STARNBERG, Germany, May 24 (UPI) -- Campaign season may cloud the cooperative nature of human language, but conversation does require cooperation, and new research shows humans' closest relatives, the great apes, employ cooperative communication.

Shouting over fellow conversers may play well on Crossfire, but in the real world, it's likely to leave a person without anyone to talk to. Talking requires turn-taking. Scientists with the Humboldt Research Group of the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology, with colleagues at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology and other university researchers, found the communications of bonobos and chimpanzees feature turn-taking sequences.


Researchers found the apes employ sounds and gestures in a way that mirrors the back-and-forth of a human conversation.

Researchers monitored the communicative gestures of mother-infant pairs in two bonobo communities and two chimp communities. Researchers observed similar cooperative communication patterns, but each species has different communication styles.

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The scientists spent two years studying the bonobo groups in Salonga National Park and Luo Scientific Reserve in the Democratic Rebublic of Congo. Several more months were devoted to observing the chimpanzee groups -- one inside the Ivory Coast's Taï National Park and another in Uganda's Kibale National Park.


"For bonobos, gaze plays a more important role and they seem to anticipate signals before they have been fully articulated," researcher Marlen Froehlich explained in a news release.

Chimp conversations are longer and more regimented, researchers observed, featuring more structured patterns of signal, pause and response.

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"Communicative interactions of great apes thus show the hallmarks of human social action during conversation and suggest that cooperative communication arose as a way of coordinating collaborative activities more efficiently," added lead researcher Simone Pika.

The research was published this week in the journal Scientific Reports.

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