, Volume 35, Issue 2, pp 137–154 | Cite as

The learning and use of gestural signals by young chimpanzees: A trans-generational study

  • Michael Tomasello
  • Josep Call
  • Katherine Nagell
  • Raquel Olguin
  • Malinda Carpenter


Observations of chimpanzee gestural communication are reported. The observations represent the third longitudinal time point of an ongoing study of the Yerkes Primate Center Field Station chimpanzee group. In contrast to observations at the first two time points, the current observations are of a new generation of infants and juveniles. There were two questions. The first concerned how young chimpanzees used their gestures, with special focus on the flexibility or intentionality displayed. It was found that youngsters quite often used the same gesture in different contexts, and different gestures in the same context. In addition, they sometimes used gestures in combinations in a single social encounter, these combinations did not convey intentions that could not be conveyed by the component gestures, however. It was also found that individuals adjusted their choice of signals depending on the attentional state of the recipient. The second question was how chimpanzees acquired their gestural signals. In general, it was found that there was little consistency in the use of gestures among individuals, especially for non-play gestures, with much individual variability both within and across generations. There were also a number of idiosyncratic gestures used by single individuals at each time point. It was concluded from these results that youngsters were not imitatively learning their communicatory gestures from conspecifics, but rather that they were individually conventionalizing them with each other. Implications of these findings for the understanding of chimpanzee communication and social learning are discussed.

Key Words

Chimpanzees Gestures Communication Culture 


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Copyright information

© Japan Monkey Centre 1994

Authors and Affiliations

  • Michael Tomasello
    • 1
  • Josep Call
    • 1
  • Katherine Nagell
    • 1
  • Raquel Olguin
    • 1
  • Malinda Carpenter
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Psychology and Yerkes Regional Primate Research CenterEmory UniversityAtlantaU. S. A.

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