Indexical and referential pointing in chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes)

D. Leavens, W. Hopkins, Kim Bard

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The spontaneous index finger and other referential pointing in 3 adult, laboratory chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) who have not received language training is reported. Of 256 total observed points, 254 were emitted in the presence of a human to objects in the environment; therefore, the points were communicative. Indicators of intentional communication used by the subjects included attention-getting behaviors, gaze alternation, and persistence until reward. Thus, pointing by these chimpanzees was intentionally communicative. These data imply that perspective-taking and referential communication are generalized hominoid traits, given appropriate eliciting contexts. Index finger pointing was more frequent with the subjects' dominant hands. This study refutes claims that indexical or referential pointing is species-unique to humans or dependent on linguistic competence or explicit training.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)346-353
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Comparative Psychology
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Dec 1996


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