Gestural communication in young gorillas (Gorilla gorilla): gestural repertoire, learning, and use

S. Pika, Katja Liebal, M. Tomasello

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In the present study we investigated the gestural communication of gorillas (Gorilla gorilla). The subjects were 13 gorillas (1–6 years old) living in two different groups in captivity. Our goal was to compile the gestural repertoire of subadult gorillas, with a special focus on processes of social cognition, including attention to individual and developmental variability, group variability, and flexibility of use. Thirty-three different gestures (six auditory, 11 tactile, and 16 visual gestures) were recorded. We found idiosyncratic gestures, individual differences, and similar degrees of concordance between and within groups, as well as some group-specific gestures. These results provide evidence that ontogenetic ritualization is the main learning process involved, but some form of social learning may also be responsible for the acquisition of special gestures. The present study establishes that gorillas have a multifaceted gestural repertoire, characterized by a great deal of flexibility with accommodations to various communicative circumstances, including the attentional state of the recipient. The possibility of assigning Seyfarth and Cheney's [1997] model for nonhuman primate vocal development to the development of nonhuman primate gestural communication is discussed.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)95-111
Number of pages17
JournalAmerican Journal of Primatology
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2003


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