, Volume 30, Issue 1, pp 35–50

A longitudinal investigation of gestural communication in young chimpanzees


  • Michael Tomasello
    • Department of Psychology, Yerkes Regional Primate Research CenterEmory University
  • Deborah Gust
    • Department of Psychology, Yerkes Regional Primate Research CenterEmory University
  • G. Thomas Frost
    • Department of PsychologyIndiana University

DOI: 10.1007/BF02381209

Cite this article as:
Tomasello, M., Gust, D. & Frost, G.T. Primates (1989) 30: 35. doi:10.1007/BF02381209


A longitudinal study of chimpanzee gestural communication is reported. Subjects were seven 5- to 8-year-old members of a semi-natural group at the Yerkes Field Station. These were the same individuals observed byTomasello et al. (1985) four years previously. Nearly identical operational definitions and observational procedures were used in the two studies. Longitudinal comparisons between the two observation periods revealed that the development of chimpanzee gestural communication is best characterized as a series of ontogenetic adaptations: as particular social functions (e.g., nursing, playing, grooming, etc.) arise, decline, or change, gestural communication follows suit. Most gestures seem to be conventionalized by individuals in direct social interaction with conspecifics. Some gestures may be learned by “second-person imitation”—an individual copying a behavior directed to it by another individual. No evidence was found for “third-person imitation”—an individual copying a gesture used between two other individuals. Implications for the concept of chimpanzee “culture” are discussed.

Key Words

ChimpanzeesCommunicationDevelopmentSocial learningCulture

Copyright information

© Japan Monkey Centre 1989