Precision grips in young chimpanzees

L. Jones-Engel, Kim Bard

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


A precision grip, thumb-finger opposition, has been regarded as an uniquely human trait. Napier’s conclusion that chimpanzees were incapable of precision grip was based on two subjects and prehension of a single object (i.e., a grape). The purpose of the present study was to specify grip type and hand use by 13 young chimpanzees to prehend three different sized food objects. The subjects were laboratory raised (eight males and five females) and ranged in age from 27 to 58 months. An ethogram was devised that comprised 43 different grip types: ten configurations of precision grips were found, in addition to imprecise or inefficient grip types (nine types), thumb-to-finger opposition (10 types), power grips (two types), and a variety of other grips (12 types). Subjects most often prehended were very small-sized (5 mm x 5 mm x 3 mm) or small-sized (10 mm x 10 mm x 3 mm) food objects with precision and imprecise grips. An analysis of latency to prehend, i.e., efficiency, revealed (1) precision grips were equally efficient for all object sizes; (2) power grips were most efficient with the largest object (a grape); (3) with imprecise grips, the left hand was more efficient than the right with small objects, and with power grips the right hand was more efficient than the left for medium-sized objects. No population handedness was observed, but individual handedness was seen in nine subjects for some grip types and some object sizes. This study provides evidence that young chimpanzees preferentially use a true precision grip to prehend small and very small objects.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-15
Number of pages15
JournalAmerican Journal of Primatology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1996


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