The chil­dren re­ally do like to mon­key around

Sci­en­tists say young­sters use many sig­nals also ob­served in great apes

The Courier & Advertiser (Angus and The Mearns Edition) - - NEWS - LEEZA CLARK

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.

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