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J Comp Psychol. 2004 Mar;118(1):48-57.

Referential communication by chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes).

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Department of Psychology, University of Georgia, Atlanta, GA, USA.


Two experiments were conducted to assess the referential function of chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes) gestures to obtain food. The chimpanzees received 1 trial per condition. In Experiment 1 (N = 101), in full view of the chimpanzee, a banana was placed on top of 1 of 2 inverted buckets or was hidden underneath 1 of the buckets. In Experiment 2 (N = 35), 4 conditions were presented in constant order: (a) no food, no observer; (b) no food, observer present; (c) food present, no observer; and (d) food present, observer present. Gestures and visual orienting were used socially and referentially. The capacity for nonverbal reference may predate the Hominidae-Pongidae split, and the development of nonverbal reference may be independent of human species-specific adaptations for speech.

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