Wild chimpanzees try to share experiences with each other, just like humans.
“Look at that beautiful mother leaf! Look, come on!”
This seems to be what Fiona says to her mother, Sutherland, as they sit clearing leaves in the middle of the Kibale forest in Uganda. This scene, captured by the researchers, has led to the conclusion that primates, just like us, share experiences with others…just for the sake of sharing them!
Indeed, in humans, the use of referential gestures to direct the attention of others to external objects and events emerges in the first year of life. In contrast, wild great apes rarely use referential gestures and, when they do, it appears to be solely to give “orders.” This apparent species difference has fueled the thesis that the ability to share attention with others is a specific human trait, with important consequences in the progression of our evolutionary process.
“While Fiona was doing this, her mother didn’t really seem interested; she wasn’t looking at her and wasn’t paying attention to her. Fiona shows her the leaf to tell her ‘look at her’, said Professor Slocombe, one of the authors of the study. “She is very persistent in trying to get her mother to look at her, and only when she visibly lowers her whole head to orient herself towards her leaf does Fiona seem satisfied”.
The researchers, authors of the video and a related study – with 84 shots of similar events, including sharing food and starting to play – provide alternative explanations for this behavior. This study is the first documented observation of this attitude in nature and suggests that monkeys have a motivation to share experiences with each other.
- Declarative referential gesturing in a wild chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes). (pnas.org)