Animal Cognition

, Volume 13, Issue 1, pp 33–40 | Cite as

Multimodal communication by captive chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes)

  • David A. LeavensEmail author
  • Jamie L. Russell
  • William D. Hopkins
Original Paper


Many studies have shown that apes and monkeys are adept at cross-modal matching tasks requiring the subject to identify objects in one modality when information regarding those objects has been presented in a different modality. However, much less is known about non-human primates’ production of multimodal signaling in communicative contexts. Here, we present evidence from a study of 110 chimpanzees demonstrating that they select the modality of communication in accordance with variations in the attentional focus of a human interactant, which is consistent with previous research. In each trial, we presented desirable food to one of two chimpanzees, turning mid-way through the trial from facing one chimpanzee to facing the other chimpanzee, and documented their communicative displays, as the experimenter turned towards or away from the subjects. These chimpanzees varied their signals within a context-appropriate modality, displaying a range of different visual signals when a human experimenter was facing them and a range of different auditory or tactile (attention-getting) signals when the human was facing away from them; this finding extends previous research on multimodal signaling in this species. Thus, in the impoverished circumstances characteristic of captivity, complex signaling tactics are nevertheless exhibited by chimpanzees, suggesting continuity in intersubjective psychological processes in humans and apes.


Chimpanzee Communication Multimodal Gesture Intentional communication Elaboration 



This work was supported in part by NIH grants RR-00165, NS-42867, NS-36605 and HD-38051. The Yerkes Center is fully accredited by the American Association for Accreditation of Laboratory Animal Care and American Psychological Association guidelines for the ethical treatment of animals were adhered to during all aspects of this study.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • David A. Leavens
    • 1
    Email author
  • Jamie L. Russell
    • 2
  • William D. Hopkins
    • 2
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of Psychology, School of Life SciencesUniversity of SussexEast SussexUK
  2. 2.Division of PsychobiologyYerkes National Primate Research CenterAtlantaUSA
  3. 3.Department of PsychologyAgnes Scott CollegeDecaturUSA

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