Comprehension of iconic gestures by chimpanzees and human children.

Journal Article (Journal Article)

Iconic gestures-communicative acts using hand or body movements that resemble their referent-figure prominently in theories of language evolution and development. This study contrasted the abilities of chimpanzees (N=11) and 4-year-old human children (N=24) to comprehend novel iconic gestures. Participants learned to retrieve rewards from apparatuses in two distinct locations, each requiring a different action. In the test, a human adult informed the participant where to go by miming the action needed to obtain the reward. Children used the iconic gestures (more than arbitrary gestures) to locate the reward, whereas chimpanzees did not. Some children also used arbitrary gestures in the same way, but only after they had previously shown comprehension for iconic gestures. Over time, chimpanzees learned to associate iconic gestures with the appropriate location faster than arbitrary gestures, suggesting at least some recognition of the iconicity involved. These results demonstrate the importance of iconicity in referential communication.

Full Text

Duke Authors

Cited Authors

  • Bohn, M; Call, J; Tomasello, M

Published Date

  • February 2016

Published In

Volume / Issue

  • 142 /

Start / End Page

  • 1 - 17

PubMed ID

  • 26448391

Electronic International Standard Serial Number (EISSN)

  • 1096-0457

International Standard Serial Number (ISSN)

  • 0022-0965

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

  • 10.1016/j.jecp.2015.09.001


  • eng