Chimpanzee communication is fairly well-documented -- they use facial gestures, vocalized calls and physical interaction to convey information or emotion. But a new study from researchers at Georgia State University found that they are also capable of directing action with gestures.
The study relied on human-chimp interactions: a chimp was shown the location of food, but was sequestered and unable to get at it. Then a human trainer with no knowledge of the food's location was placed nearby, requiring the chimp to come up with some way to direct the trainer to the hidden food. The chimps pointed at the trainer to indicate the subject, and then pointed directionally towards the object, to guide the trainer around obstacles to get the food. From the release:
Because of the openness of this paradigm, the findings illustrate the high level of intentionality chimpanzees are capable of, including their use of directional gestures. This study adds to our understanding of how well chimpanzees can remember and communicate about their environment.
It's the first time this sort of gesture -- pointing to an object as well as directing an action -- has been seen in chimps.
Dr. Anna Roberts, one of the researchers, said, "The use of gestures to coordinate joint activities such as finding food may have been an important building block in the evolution of language."