, Volume 51, Issue 3, pp 199–202 | Cite as

Do bonobos say NO by shaking their head?

  • Christel SchneiderEmail author
  • Josep Call
  • Katja Liebal
News and Perspectives


Head-shaking gestures are commonly used by African great apes to solicit activities such as play. Here, we report observations of head shaking in four bonobos apparently aimed at preventing the recipient from doing something. This may reflect a primitive precursor of the negatively connoted head-shaking behavior in humans. Further investigations are needed to clarify the preventive function of head shakes and their evolutionary role in the evolution of negation in humans.


Communication Gestures Head shaking Pan paniscus 



We thank Dierenpark Planckendael (Belgium), Leipzig Zoo, Berlin Zoo, and Muenster Zoo (Germany), as well as Apenheul and Arnhem Zoo (Holland) for allowing us to conduct our research. For fruitful discussions and comments on earlier drafts of this manuscript, we thank M. Chase, H. Gretscher, and M. Halina. Thanks to the anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments. This study is part of the interdisciplinary research project “Towards a grammar of gesture”, which is funded by the Volkswagen Foundation (Hannover, Germany).

Supplementary material

Supplementary material 1 (MPG 7186 kb)

Supplementary material 2 (MPG 2502 kb)


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Copyright information

© Japan Monkey Centre and Springer 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Evolutionary PsychologyFreie Universität BerlinBerlinGermany
  2. 2.Department of Developmental and Comparative PsychologyMax Planck Institute for Evolutionary AnthropologyLeipzigGermany

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