, Volume 58, Issue 3, pp 403–412 | Cite as

Tube task hand preference in captive hylobatids

  • Luca MorinoEmail author
  • Makiko Uchikoshi
  • Fred Bercovitch
  • William D. Hopkins
  • Tetsuro Matsuzawa
Original Article


The link between laterality in humans and other primates is still hotly debated. Hylobatids have been rather neglected in this research area, yet they can provide important insights because: (1) they share with humans a complex vocal repertoire, which in humans is thought to be associated with brain hemispheric specialization and lateralized behaviors; (2) their adaptation to arboreality has produced unique postural constraints; (3) the little that is known about laterality in gibbons is contradictory (captive studies have provided conflicting results, while a field study on siamangs reported a population-level left-hand preference). To clarify this, we investigated hand preference in captive hylobatids [n = 42; 22 siamangs (Symphalangus syndactylus) and 20 gibbons (Hylobates sp., Nomascus leucogenys)] in nine Japanese facilities. We had a large sample size, controlled for possible confounds (posture, enclosure limitations) and used a well-established testing protocol (tube task). Handedness indices calculated from raw frequencies and bouts were highly correlated and showed a significant left-hand skew, which is consistent with data from wild siamangs. Major differences between captive and wild siamangs were a larger number of ambiguously handed individuals, and no significant age-related variation in captivity. The use of the index finger elicited a much more strongly lateralized response than the thumb. These results confirmed a left-hand preference in siamangs, but were equivocal in other hylobatids, and suggest selective pressures that may have acted on the highly arboreal hylobatids to favor handedness. Our study also indicates factors that might explain the discrepancy in the literature between handedness studies on captive and wild primate populations.


Laterality Siamang Postural origin hypothesis Arboreality Thumb 



This research was funded by a postdoctoral fellowship for overseas researchers to L. M. from the Japanese Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS-PE 13017); the Human Evolution Project of the Primate Research Institute (PRI-Kyoto University); the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, Japan (grant 16H06283 to T. M.); the Leading Graduate Program in Primatology and Wildlife Science of Kyoto University (U04 to T. M.); the Core-to-Core program (CCSN to T. M.); and the Center for International Collaboration and Advanced Studies in Primatology of Kyoto University. We gratefully acknowledge the help and support of Mami Shikuwa at PRI, and the collaboration, enthusiasm and dedication of the keepers and administrators of the Japanese zoos and facilities where the data were collected (Table 5, Appendix). We thank Tatsuya Kurokawa, Hikaru Wakamori and Ryuji Yasukochi for their excellent data collection, and Peter MacNeilage, Adrien Meguerdichian, Shelly Masi and the participants of the psychology and the ecology seminars at PRI for helpful and stimulating discussions.

Compliance with ethical standards

The design of the present research was approved by the Animal Welfare and Animal Care Committee of the Primate Research Center (Kyoto University) and by the Animal Research Committee of Kyoto University (approval nos. 2013-173 and 2014-011). All procedures adhered to the Japanese Act on the Welfare and Management of Animals.

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


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Copyright information

© Japan Monkey Centre and Springer Japan 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Muséum National d’Histoire NaturelleParisFrance
  2. 2.Primate Research InstituteKyoto UniversityInuyamaJapan
  3. 3.Neuroscience Institute and the Language Research CenterGeorgia State UniversityAtlantaUSA
  4. 4.Division of Developmental and Cognitive NeuroscienceYerkes National Primate Research CenterAtlantaUSA
  5. 5.Institute of Advanced StudyKyoto UniversityKyotoJapan
  6. 6.Japan Monkey CentreInuyamaJapan
  7. 7.Parc Zoologique de ParisParisFrance

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