by Brooks Hays
Luikotale, Democratic Republic Of Congo (UPI) Sep 11, 2015
Referential communication is a key component of human communication. New evidence suggests the evolutionary roots of pointing and pantomiming may lie with our ape ancestors, particularly the bonobo.
According to new research, conducted by a team of scientists from the Democratic Republic of Congo and Germany's Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, female bonobos consistently contextualize their vocal communication with referential gesturing.
The observed gestures among bonobo colonies takes two forms -- pointing and pantomiming. In observing wild bonobos at field sites in the Congo's Luikotale forests, scientists found the ape's gesturing was used to communicate a desired social goal.
Over the course of three years, researchers say pointing and pantomiming (acting out a desired action) were always used in the context of socio-sexual interactions between females. Genital-to-genital contact is common among female bonobos as a strategy for easing tensions and encouraging social cohesion.
Female bonobos were observed regularly using gestural communication to initiate socio-sexual interactions. Most socio-sexual communication and touching happens prior to feeding. In documenting the behavior, researchers observed that a gesturer and her partner were more likely to remain close and feed together after socio-sexual interaction than were females who in rare cases denied the gestural advances of another.
Scientists, whose paper is published in the journal Scientific Reports, say there is more work to be done to understand whether bonobos are aware of their own symbolism.
"What remains to be explored is whether bonobos have mental representations when they produce these gestures, and whether females who respond to gestures understand the referential or iconic content of the signals," researchers wrote.
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