London: A Stirling University researcher has found that wild chimpanzees use gestures similar to humans to communicate with each other.
Dr Anna Roberts from Stirling University said she had identified about 20 to 30 manual gestures used by chimpanzees, up to a third of which were similar to those used by humans.
The chimps’ gestures included beckoning to make someone approach or flailing their arms to make someone leave.
It is hoped the finding may help researchers understand how humans evolved language.
Dr Roberts, who studied chimpanzees in the wild in Uganda over an eight-month period, believes the gestures suggest that a common ancestor of humans and chimpanzees must have used similar manual gestures.
“Chimpanzees use these gestures intentionally to elicit a desired response from other chimpanzees and they may be the missing link between ape and human communication,” the BBC quoted Dr Roberts as saying.
“We now know that these gestures must have been in the repertoire of our common ancestor and might have been the starting point for language evolution,” she added.
The study found the animals used gestures to communicate a range of activities including nursing, feeding, sex, aggression and defence.
Dr Roberts also discovered that chimpanzees not only communicate using manual gestures, but are able to work out what the signaler means from both gesture and accompanying context.
“The defining way that people understand communication with others is by figuring out what someone really means by ‘mind-reading’ their intentions and we have discovered that chimpanzees may have a similar ability,” she said.
Dr Roberts said the research showed that the basic elements for the evolution of language appeared to be present in our closest living relatives.
First Published: Sunday, July 15, 2012, 15:24