The basic chimpanzee gesture ‘dictionary’ has been translated, are the capuchins next?

kilimi thinkingMembers of the Scottish Primate Research Group from the University of St Andrews, have revealed what wild chimpanzees are trying to say when they communicate with their body and hand movements.

Dr Catherine Hobaiter and Professor Richard Byrne created a ‘dictionary’ of meanings behind chimp gestures such as arm raises, ground slaps and foot stomps by observing over 80 wild Ugandan chimpanzees.

The results have just been published in the journal Current Biology. Although it has been known for some time that apes use gestures to communicate, it wasn’t until now that we have worked out what they are actually trying to say.

Professor Byrne, explained:

“There is abundant evidence that chimpanzees and other apes gesture with purpose. Apes target their gestures to particular individuals, choosing appropriate gestures according to whether the other is looking or not; they stop gesturing when they get the result they want; and otherwise they keep going, trying out alternative gestures or other tactics altogether.’

In a significant first step towards answering this question, the researchers studied the behaviour of chimpanzees in the Budongo Forest, Uganda.  They used video to record communicative interactions, and extracted over 4500 instances of gesturing. They looked specifically at non-playful uses (because in play, gestures may not be used with their ‘real’ meaning) and identified specific meanings for most of the chimpanzee repertoire of 66 gestures.

Amongst the meanings discovered, they found that when a chimpanzee taps another it means ‘stop that’; a hand fling or slapping an object means ‘move away’; while an arm raise means ‘I want that’ or ‘give me that’.

Dr Hobaiter explained:

Just as with human words, some gestures have several senses, but importantly the meanings of chimpanzee gestures are the same irrespective of who uses them. Chimpanzees may use more than one gesture for the same purpose – especially in social negotiations, where the final outcome may be a matter of some give and take”.

The next steps will involve the St Andrews researchers investigating possible variations in meaning behind certain chimpanzee gestures.

Dr Hobaiter added, “Now that the basic chimpanzee gesture ‘dictionary’ is known, we can start to tackle other interesting questions. Do some gestures have very general meanings, where their intended sense is understood from the context? Or do subtle variations in how a gesture is made determine which sense was meant?”

Our question at Living Links is will someone try and match this type of study for our capuchins? We do see a variety of gestures from our monkeys that are linked with social responses from the rest of the group, any SPRG members up for this challenge?

   gesture capuchins

The paper, ‘The meanings of chimpanzee gestures’ is published by Current Biology on Thursday July 3. The paper is available online at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.cub.2014.05.066

BBC News: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-28023630

Jane Goodall welcomed back to Living Links

Jane Goodall DBE, who opened Living Links with Sir Michael Atiyah in 2008, revisited the Centre on 30 April 2014. We were delighted to be able to show her how Living Links has flourished in the six years since opening, with our innovative combination of research and public engagement in a zoo setting.

Jane Goodall and Andrew WhitenResearchers from the Scottish Primate Research Group who work at Living Links and the Budongo Trail were on hand to meet Dr Goodall to discuss their research and, despite overcast conditions, Dr Emily Messer was able to give a demonstration of her work on capuchin fur rubbing (see our video Monkey Medicine for more information).

Professor Andrew Whiten, Director of Living Links, said: ‘It was an enormous pleasure to welcome Jane Goodall back to Living Links. We were able to show her the progress we have made in the Centre and we were delighted to have this pioneering primatologist take her place in our “My Primate Family Tree” mural.’

Dr Goodall spent the day at the zoo and gave the first in RZSS’s ‘Tribal Elders: Words of Wisdom’ lecture series.

Jane Goodall and RZSS researchers

Living Links is a Winner in Public Engagement

andy public engagement

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our founding director of Living Links Professor Andrew Whiten from the University of St Andrews, is to be awarded the Senior Public Engagement Prize 2014 from the Royal Society of Edinburgh (RSE) for his extensive, creativity and unique forms of public engagement at the Living Links Centre and beyond.

Each year the RSE highlights some of the UK’s most outstanding talent through its Royal Medals and Prize Winner awards. The awards are given to those working at the present time, and include those who have reached the pinnacle of their discipline and are regarded as such internationally.

President of the RSE, Sir John Arbuthnott, said: ‘One of the great privileges of my role is meeting the Royal Medalists and Prize Winners. These are our highest accolades. They reflect the Enlightenment spirit of the RSE’s Royal Charter of 1783 and its remit to advance learning and useful knowledge. My warmest congratulations to all of this year’s recipients.’

To get an overview of our public engagement activities click on the link below http://www.living-links.org/visitors-2/public/.

It’s written all over your face!

Guest Blogger – Annabel Scott , BSc Environmental Stewardship –  Glasgow University

In a recent study by Wilson et al. (2013), the facial structure of capuchin monkeys was examined to see whether differences in this link to different personality traits.

Sixty-four capuchins were examined from three institutes: our Living Links monkeys here in Edinburgh Zoo, the Language Research Centre at Georgia University and the Laboratory of Comparative Ethology at the National Institute of Health.  Front facing photographs were used to find the measurements for each capuchin.  fWHR (facial width to height ratio) was determined by the ratio of bizygomatic width to upper face height as shown below.   Lower face/face height (eyelids-chin/height of whole face) and face width/lower face height (bizygomatic width/height of whole face) were also calculated.

wilson et al monkey face

 

 

 

Personality ratings were collected for each individual by a measure used in non-human primates.  These were scored on a 7-point scale, which ranged from no signs of the trait (1) to extreme display (7).  Five traits were looked at; assertiveness, openness, attentiveness, neuroticism and sociability.  Below are photos that illustrate the differences in capuchin face morphology.

capuchin faces

 

 

Examinations of lower face/face showed a significant effect of age as the ratio increases, however no sign of sexual dimorphism.  Neuroticism was found to be non-dimorphic in capuchins, but in humans both neuroticism and lower face/face height are sexually dimorphic.  fWHR is not sexually dimorphic in humans.  Capuchins with higher ratios of lower face/face height (longer lower face) were found to be more neurotic and less attentive.  Therefore facial morphology of capuchins determines three personality traits: assertiveness, attentiveness and neuroticism.

figure one face chart The following graph (Fig. 1.) shows how face width/lower face height has a significant age × sex interaction, with males showing a higher face width/lower face height ratio than females.  These sex differences increase across the life span.  Humans also exhibit sexual dimorphism in this facial metric, however women show higher ratios than men and this also increases with age.

fWHR and face width/lower face height both showed a link to assertiveness.  One possible reason that these facial metrics relate to personality is due to the connection with status and leadership traits.  Status in humans can be based on force or friendship, lower face/face height however, may be driven by vigilance and attention span, therefore linked to a social form of status.

Openness and sociability appear to affect sociality and cognition in capuchins.  Sexual dimorphism may be linked to differences in morphology, so future work with these species may help to understand what determines species-specific personality traits and why they are associated with facial structure.

Further studies could look at sex-specific age growth in capuchin facial metrics and could also examine the effects of location and body weight.  Examining the lower face/face height further could tell us the origins of status effects on well-being and emotional traits, which could be linked to status in humans.

Reference

Wilson, V., Lefevre, C.E., Morton, F.B., Brosnan, S.F., Paukner, A. and Bates, T.C. (2013). Personality and facial morphology: Links to assertiveness and neuroticism in capuchins (Sapajus [Cebus] apella), Personality and Individual Differences. (IN PRESS)

 

 

Young Primatologist Wins Prestigious European Science Prize

Erica van de WaalCongratulations to St Andrews researcher Dr Erica van de Waal who has been awarded the 2014 Niko Tinbergen Award of the Ethologische Gesellschaft, the Society which organises the annual European Conference on Behavioural Biology (ECBB).

Dr van de Waal will give a plenary lecture at the ECBB meeting in July in Prague.

For the past three years, Dr van de Waal has been a research fellow studying social learning in wild African Vervet monkeys, part of an international collaboration between the Universities of Neuchatel, Zurich and St Andrews, funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation(SNSF). This year, she begins her own postdoctoral fellowship in St Andrews to continue her collaboration with Professor Andrew Whiten, funded by the SNSF.

FREE Lecture – The Culture of Apes & Other Animals

Primate (37)Professor Andrew Whiten, from the St Andrews University School of Psychology and Neuroscience, will deliver this year’s Sir James Black Prize and Medal Lecture in Edinburgh.

The lecture will highlight recent discoveries in primates and other species, revealing animal culture as a “second inheritance system” that complements the better known results of genetic inheritance.

Admission is free but seats are already being snapped up, so you must be booked in advance via The Cultures of Apes and other Animals

Date : Monday  19th May 2014
Time : 6:00 pm
Location : The Royal Society of Edinburgh
22-26 George Street,
Edinburgh,
EH2 2PQ

BBC2 – Wild Brazil Researcher at Living Links

Next week we will be welcoming Camila Galheigo Coelho a PhD student from Durham University who has been studying wild capuchin behaviour.

Some of her work will be featured in the BBC2 three part documentary Wild Brazil which airs January 14 – 16th at 9pm.

She has been studying ‘Social dynamics and the diffusion of novel behaviour patterns’ in capuchin monkeys and our monkeys here will now have a chance to take part in tasks that their wild counter parts have done.

BBC2 researcher wild brazil

 

 

Do Squirrel Monkeys Understand the Rules of Language?

flora 2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The ability to learn patterns, ultimately the rules of language has rarely been studied in new world primates. In this study the researchers use species specific sounds/tones to determine if the squirrel monkeys were able to decipher when the correct order and incorrect order of these sounds were played. This is the first study that has used species specific frequencies in order to test their abilities. Other studies relied on humans producing syllables, which may not have been the most appropriate way to measure the monkeys’ capabilities.

Two ordered sound patterns were tested with the same rule being applied of A Bn A.

Test 1 – Low Tone= A, and High Tone = B (eg. Low, High, High, High, Low)

Test 2 – High Tone = A and Low Tone = B (eg. High, Low, Low, High)

The results suggest that the monkeys were able to consistently decipher when the rules were being broken in both the test settings.

These finding suggests that the ancestor of both squirrel monkeys and humans which existed approximately 36 million years ago would also have been able to understand the rules involved in pattern learning, thus most living apes and monkeys today should also be able to do this. This skill may have evolved as a cognitive ability rather than a direct pre-cursor to language.

Ravignani, A., Sonnweber, RS., Stobbe, N. and Fitch, TW (2013). Action at a distance: dependency sensitivity in a New World primate. Biology Letters. 9. 20130852

Ruth Sonnweber, one of the scientists from this study is now continuing similar work here with our squirrel monkeys in Living Links, however instead of sound stimuli she has been using touch screen to determine their ability to learn patterns.

sq monkey touch screen x 2

 

 

Hey mate? There is a snake!

Chimpanzee Alarm Call Production Meets Key Criteria for Intentionality

Determining the intentionality of primate communication is vital to understanding the evolution of human language. Although intentional signalling has been studied for some great ape gestures, comparable evidence is currently lacking for their vocal signals.

In this study the following criteria were used to analyse if the Sonso group of chimpanzees in the Budongo Forest in Uganda were communicating with intention.

criteria for intentionality in chimp comms

 

 

 

 

 

 

The researchers presented the chimpanzees with a python model with up to 4 observers recording the calls and behaviours of each focal individual.

chimp intent calls diagram

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Figure – The snake image represents the location of the python
model, concealed by leaves. Observers and their main roles are defined. The
chimpanzee image depicts the focal chimpanzee, who could be accompanied by
other group members depending on the experimental condition.

The results of this study indicate that some chimpanzee calls meet the criteria for intentionality, for example most chimpanzees who had seen the snake model gave calls and demonstrated gaze alternation and audience checking with a fellow chimpanzee. ‘Waa Barks’ (WB) and ‘Alarm Huus’(AH) were produced in the presence of socially important individuals who had not seen the snake. Furthermore , WB’s and AH’s were increased in the presence of friends vs. non-friends.

The researchers believe that their findings disagree with the gestural theories of language origins and instead support a multimodal origin for human language.

Video illustrating gaze alternation and looking at a group member before producing waa barks. Video is filmed from position 2. Focal adult female Nambi reacts to the arrival of her adult son Musa by turning and looking at Musa before producing her first waa barks of the trial. Nambi then looks immediately back at the snake, showing gaze alternation between the recipient and the snake whilst calling. During Nambi’s waa bark production, Musa stands bipedally.

 

Schel, AM., Townsend,SW.,Machanda, Z.,Zuberbuhler, K., and Slocombe, KE. (2013). Chimpanzee Alarm Call Production Meets Key Criteria for Intentionality. PLoS ONE 8 (10): DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0076674