, Volume 45, Issue 1, pp 41–57 | Cite as

Social communication in siamangs (Symphalangus syndactylus): use of gestures and facial expressions

  • Katja Liebal
  • Simone Pika
  • Michael Tomasello
Original Article


The current study represents the first systematic investigation of the social communication of captive siamangs (Symphalangus syndactylus). The focus was on intentional signals, including tactile and visual gestures, as well as facial expressions and actions. Fourteen individuals from different groups were observed and the signals used by individuals were recorded. Thirty-one different signals, consisting of 12 tactile gestures, 8 visual gestures, 7 actions, and 4 facial expressions, were observed, with tactile gestures and facial expressions appearing most frequently. The range of the signal repertoire increased steadily until the age of six, but declined afterwards in adults. The proportions of the different signal categories used within communicative interactions, in particular actions and facial expressions, also varied depending on age. Group differences could be traced back mainly to social factors or housing conditions. Differences in the repertoire of males and females were most obvious in the sexual context. Overall, most signals were used flexibly, with the majority performed in three or more social contexts and almost one-third of signals used in combination with other signals. Siamangs also adjusted their signals appropriately for the recipient, for example, using visual signals most often when the recipient was already attending (audience effects). These observations are discussed in the context of siamang ecology, social structure, and cognition.


Communication Facial expressions Gestures Intentional signals Symphalangus syndactylus 



Special thanks to the staff of Zoo Krefeld and Howletts Wild Animal Park, in particular to Dr. W. Dressen and E. Thetford, for their support and hospitality. Many thanks also to Daniel Stahl, Josep Call and Keith Jensen for discussion and comments on the manuscript.


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Copyright information

© Japan Monkey Centre and Springer-Verlag 2004

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary AnthropologyLeipzigGermany
  2. 2.University of AlbertaEdmonton T6G2E9Canada

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