Does body posture influence hand preference in an ancestral primate model?

Marina Scheumann, Marine Joly, Lisette Leliveld, Elke Zimmermann

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: The origin of human handedness and its evolution in primates is presently under debate. Current hypotheses suggest that body posture (postural origin hypothesis and bipedalism hypothesis) have an important impact on the evolution of handedness in primates. To gain insight into the origin of manual lateralization in primates, we studied gray mouse lemurs, suggested to represent the most ancestral primate condition. First, we investigated hand preference in a simple food grasping task to explore the importance of hand usage in a natural foraging situation. Second, we explored the influence of body posture by applying a forced food grasping task with varying postural demands (sit, biped, cling, triped).

Results: The tested mouse lemur population did not prefer to use their hands alone to grasp for food items. Instead, they preferred to pick them up using a mouth-hand combination or the mouth alone. If mouth usage was inhibited, they showed an individual but no population level handedness for all four postural forced food grasping tasks. Additionally, we found no influence of body posture on hand preference in gray mouse lemurs.

Conclusion: Our results do not support the current theories of primate handedness. Rather, they propose that ecological adaptation indicated by postural habit and body size of a given species has an important impact on hand preference in primates. Our findings suggest that small-bodied, quadrupedal primates, adapted to the fine branch niche of dense forests, prefer mouth retrieval of food and are less manually lateralized than large-bodied species which consume food in a more upright, and less stable body posture.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-10
JournalBMC Evolutionary Biology
Issue number52
Publication statusPublished - 28 Feb 2011


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