Effects of cage mesh on pointing: hand shapes in chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes)

D. Leavens, J. Ely, W. Hopkins, Kim Bard

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It has been speculated that cage mesh exerts a shaping influence on reaching behavior by captive apes, which is then misconstrued as pointing by human observers. Although this notion is clearly falsified by the pointing of captive language-trained apes—who point in the absence of intervening cage mesh—nevertheless, the degree to which cage mesh might influence pointing hand shapes by captive great apes in other housing environments remains relatively unexplored. We examined 259 pointing gestures displayed in archival footage from over 18 h of observation by three nonlanguage-trained chimpanzees housed at a biomedical research center. We coded points in relation to how close to the boundaries of the diamond-shaped cage mesh their points were displayed. We found that points with the whole hand were significantly more likely to be displayed away from the mesh boundaries, relative to points with the index finger or other single-digit points. However, points of each hand shape were displayed at each location, demonstrating that these physical parameters do not fully account for the number of fingers extended while pointing by chimpanzees.
Original languageEnglish
JournalAnimal Cognition
Publication statusPublished - 16 Nov 2011


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