The children really do like to monkey around
Scientists say youngsters use many signals also observed in great apes
There was no monkey business for St Andrews scientists who have found young children ape the gestures of chimpanzees and gorillas.
In a surprise to boffins, youngsters on the cusp of learning language were found to use many signals observed in great apes.
Published in Animal Cognition, the new research showed children use 52 actions to communicate. More than 95% of them are shared with chimpanzees and gorillas.
Scientists from St Andrews University joined forces with colleagues from the universities of Neuchatel, Göttingen and Hamburg in the study.
Chimpanzees were observed in their habitat, the Budongo forest in Uganda, and young children were observed in their nursery and home environments.
Senior author Dr Catherine Hobaiter, from the school of psychology and neuroscience at St Andrews, said: “Wild chimpanzees, gorillas, bonobos and orangutans all use gestures to communicate their day-to-day requests, but until now there was always one ape missing from the picture – us.
“We used exactly the same approach to study young chimpanzees and children, which makes sense – children are just tiny apes.”
Dr Hobaiter said: “We thought that we might find a few of these gestures – reaching out your palm to ask for something or sticking your hand up in the air – but we were amazed to see so many of the ape gestures used by the children.”
The scientists found that, like young apes, the young children used these gestures in a similar way, combining them together to ask for different things.
It’s not just monkey business, as young children learning language have much in common with apes.