How We Communicate: Gestures May Come From Chimps

A study showed that like humans, chimps gesture when communicating.

Aug. 30, 2007 — -- Gesturing is one of the oldest forms of human communication, and now researchers have discovered that apes and chimps use the same motions humans do when asking for things.

The study, conducted at the Yerkes National Primate Research Center in Atlanta, tested whether gestures are a flexible communication form by measuring the association between signals and specific behaviors.

It compared groups of the same and different ape species.

And like people, the animals used gestures to request an assortment of things.

"It's used to ask for a variety of things -- grooming, comfort, food, sex," said the study's author, Amy Pollick.

For example, researchers observed when one chimp had a coconut and another chimp wanted some, it tried to make that known with a gesture.

"The palm up gesture could be the missing link between what we observe in apes and what humans do," Pollick said. "Everything is built on an evolutionary layer, and if it all goes back to one simple gesture that hints at the seeds of symbolic communication then that I think is a very important message."

The study may have answered the question of how humans learned to communicate.

As humans evolved, so did their gesturing. Now people use gestures for almost everything, like preachers asking for divine assistance or frustrated Hollywood directors imploring their actors.