Body language: The interplay between positional behavior and gestural signaling in the genus Pan and its implications for language evolution.

Journal Article (Journal Article)


The gestural repertoires of bonobos and chimpanzees are well documented, but the relationship between gestural signaling and positional behavior (i.e., body postures and locomotion) has yet to be explored. Given that one theory for language evolution attributes the emergence of increased gestural communication to habitual bipedality, this relationship is important to investigate.

Materials and methods

In this study, we examined the interplay between gestures, body postures, and locomotion in four captive groups of bonobos and chimpanzees using ad libitum and focal video data.


We recorded 43 distinct manual (involving upper limbs and/or hands) and bodily (involving postures, locomotion, head, lower limbs, or feet) gestures. In both species, actors used manual and bodily gestures significantly more when recipients were attentive to them, suggesting these movements are intentionally communicative. Adults of both species spent less than 1.0% of their observation time in bipedal postures or locomotion, yet 14.0% of all bonobo gestures and 14.7% of all chimpanzee gestures were produced when subjects were engaged in bipedal postures or locomotion. Among both bonobo groups and one chimpanzee group, these were mainly manual gestures produced by infants and juvenile females. Among the other chimpanzee group, however, these were mainly bodily gestures produced by adult males in which bipedal posture and locomotion were incorporated into communicative displays.


Overall, our findings reveal that bipedality did not prompt an increase in manual gesturing in these study groups. Rather, body postures and locomotion are intimately tied to many gestures and certain modes of locomotion can be used as gestures themselves.

Full Text

Duke Authors

Cited Authors

  • Smith, LW; Delgado, RA

Published Date

  • August 2015

Published In

Volume / Issue

  • 157 / 4

Start / End Page

  • 592 - 602

PubMed ID

  • 25851528

Electronic International Standard Serial Number (EISSN)

  • 1096-8644

International Standard Serial Number (ISSN)

  • 0002-9483

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

  • 10.1002/ajpa.22751


  • eng