Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Orangutans Communicate As If They Were Playing Charades

Date:
August 2, 2007
Source:
University of St. Andrews
Summary:
When using gestures to get their points across, orangutans rely on the same basic strategy that humans follow when playing the popular game and intentionally modify or repeat hand (or other) signals based on the success or failure of their first attempt.

Orangutans communicate as if they were playing charades, intentionally modifying or repeating hand signals based on the success or failure of their first attempt.
Credit: Image courtesy of University of St. Andrews

When using gestures to get their points across, orangutans rely on the same basic strategy that humans follow when playing the popular game and intentionally modify or repeat hand (or other) signals based on the success or failure of their first attempt.

Professor Richard Byrne of the School of Psychology said, "We were surprised that the orangutans' responses so clearly signaled their assessment of the audience's comprehension. Looking at the tapes of the animal's responses, you can easily work out whether the orangutan thinks it has been fully, partially, or not understood, without seeing what went before."

"This means that, in effect, they are passing information back to the audience about how well they are doing in understanding them, hence our 'charades' analogy. In playing the game, you want primarily to convey your meaning non-verbally - as does the orangutan - but secondarily to help the team get your meaning by giving them hints as to how well they are doing."

To find out whether orangutans intentionally communicate with people through gestures - a skill earlier attributed to chimpanzees - PhD student Erica Cartmill and Professor Byrne presented six orangutans in Jersey and Twycross Zoos with situations in which one tempting and one not-so-tempting food item had to be reached with human help.

But to test the orangutans' strategy, there was a catch. Rather than play along all the time, the experimenter sometimes purposefully misunderstood the orangutan's requests, providing them with only half of the delicious treat in some cases and, in others, handing over the less pleasant alternative instead.

When the person they were trying to communicate with did not meet orangutans' aims, they persisted with further attempts, the researchers reported. When partially understood, the animals narrowed down their range of signals, focusing on gestures already used and repeating them frequently. In contrast, when completely misunderstood, orangutans elaborated their range of gestures, avoiding repetition of 'failed' signals.

"The response showed that the orangutan had intended a particular result, anticipated getting it, and kept trying until it got the result," Cartmill said. "The orangutans made a clear distinction between total misunderstanding, when they tended to give up on the signals they'd used already, and use new, but equivalent, ones to get the idea across, and partial misunderstanding, when they tended to repeat the signals that had already partially worked, keeping at it with vigor. The result was that understanding could be achieved more quickly."

The orangutans' charades-like strategy is one way to construct shared meaning from learned or ritualised signals in the absence of language, the researchers concluded. Further investigation of communication among apes may therefore provide insight into the pre-linguistic devices that helped construct the very earliest forms of hominid language.

The findings are published in Current Biology (2 August 2007).


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of St. Andrews. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

University of St. Andrews. "Orangutans Communicate As If They Were Playing Charades." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 2 August 2007. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/08/070802091437.htm>.
University of St. Andrews. (2007, August 2). Orangutans Communicate As If They Were Playing Charades. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 30, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/08/070802091437.htm
University of St. Andrews. "Orangutans Communicate As If They Were Playing Charades." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/08/070802091437.htm (accessed July 30, 2014).

Share This




More Plants & Animals News

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Raw: Otters Enjoy Water Slides at Japan Zoo

Raw: Otters Enjoy Water Slides at Japan Zoo

AP (July 30, 2014) River otters were hitting the water slides to beat the summer heatwave on Wednesday at Ichikawa City's Zoological and Botanical Garden. (July 30) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
In Virginia, the Rise of a New Space Coast

In Virginia, the Rise of a New Space Coast

AP (July 30, 2014) Every summer, tourists make the pilgrimage to Chincoteague Island, Va. to see wild ponies cross the Assateague Channel. But, it's the rockets sending to supplies to the International Space Station that are making this a year-round destination. (July 30) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Rodents Rampant in Gardens Around Louvre

Rodents Rampant in Gardens Around Louvre

AP (July 29, 2014) Food scraps and other items left on the grounds by picnickers brings unwelcome visitors to the grounds of the world famous and popular Louvre Museum in Paris. (July 29) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Jane Goodall Warns Great Apes Face Extinction

Jane Goodall Warns Great Apes Face Extinction

AFP (July 29, 2014) The world's great apes face extinction within decades, renowned chimpanzee expert Jane Goodall warned Tuesday in a call to arms to ensure man's closest relatives are not wiped out. Duration: 00:58 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins