International Journal of Primatology

, Volume 39, Issue 4, pp 602–632 | Cite as

Do Mechanical Effectiveness and Recipient Species Influence Intentional Signal Laterality in Captive Chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes)?

  • Jacques PrieurEmail author
  • Simone Pika
  • Stéphanie Barbu
  • Catherine Blois-Heulin


Studying the relationships between the directions of brain lateralization for handedness and language can shed light on mechanisms underlying hemispheric specialization for manipulation and signalling functions. We investigated the influence of manipulation and communication functions and of recipient species (conspecific- versus human-directed communication) on manual laterality in signalling context, taking several factors into account simultaneously. We assessed laterality in 39 chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes), including 4 manipulators (mechanically effective social actions used to get things done) and 18 gestures (mechanically ineffective social actions implying that the signaller takes the recipient’s response into account). We focused on the following factors: interactional context components (e.g., visual fields of both interactants), degree of use of signals (“rare” for signals performed by only a few subjects in the population or “common” for signals performed by many subjects), mechanical effectiveness, subjects’ sociodemographic characteristics (e.g., age and hierarchy), and recipient species. We found a significant population-level right-hand bias for one type of human-directed gesture (slap hand). Mechanical effectiveness influenced laterality: right-hand use was more pronounced for conspecific-directed gestures than for conspecific-directed manipulators. The laterality of conspecific-directed gestures overall did not differ from that of human-directed gestures. However, we found an indirect influence of recipient species on laterality as conspecific- and human-directed gestural lateralities were modulated differently by the position of the recipient in the signaller’s visual field and by signaller’s age. We hypothesize that the communication nature of gestures might have developed from manipulators. Manipulators may have contributed to the emergence and the evolution of the left-lateralized communication system in primates.


Gestural communication Hemispheric lateralization Language evolution Manipulation Motor effectiveness Primate lateral asymmetry 



We are very grateful to all the keepers, collaborators, and researchers of the Wolfgang Köhler Primate Research Center at Zoo Leipzig, Germany; the Zooparc de Beauval; and the zoo of La Palmyre, France; and particularly Daniel Hanus, Josep Call, Aude Desmoulins, Romain Potier, Florence Perroux, and Thierry Petit for allowing us to study their chimpanzee groups as well as for their friendliness and helpfulness. We are also indebted to Amandine Chapelain for her advice about the design of the observation protocol and to Russell Lenth and Maxime Hervé for their statistical advice about the use of lme4 and lsmeans packages as well as to Ann Cloarec for correcting the English. Furthermore, we thank the editor and reviewers for helpful comments on this article. This study has been performed in the framework of a PhD funded by the French Ministry of Research and Technology with additional financial support of Rennes Metropole and the VAS Doctoral School. In addition, it was supported by a Sofja-Kovalevskaja Award of the Humboldt Foundation to S. Pika.

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Authors and Affiliations

  • Jacques Prieur
    • 1
    Email author
  • Simone Pika
    • 2
    • 3
  • Stéphanie Barbu
    • 1
  • Catherine Blois-Heulin
    • 1
  1. 1.Université de Rennes, Ethologie Animale et Humaine, UMR 6552, CNRS, Université de Caen NormandiePaimpontFrance
  2. 2.Department of PrimatologyMax Planck Institute for Evolutionary AnthropologyLeipzigGermany
  3. 3.Comparative Biocognition, Institute of Cognitive ScienceUniversity of OsnabrückOsnabrückGermany

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