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Psychol Sci. 2005 Jun;16(6):487-93.

The distribution and development of handedness for manual gestures in captive chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes).

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Division of Psychobiology, Yerkes National Primate Research Center, Emory University, Atlanta, GA 30322, USA.


This article describes the distribution and development of handedness for manual gestures in captive chimpanzees. Data on handedness for unimanual gestures were collected in a sample of 227 captive chimpanzees. Handedness for these gestures was compared with handedness for three other measures of hand use: tool use, reaching, and coordinated bimanual actions. Chimpanzees were significantly more right-handed for gestures than for all other measures of hand use. Hand use for simple reaching at 3 to 4 years of age predicted hand use for gestures 10 years later. Use of the right hand for gestures was significantly higher when gestures were accompanied by a vocalization than when they were not. The collective results suggest that left-hemisphere specialization for language may have evolved initially from asymmetries in manual gestures in the common ancestor of chimpanzees and humans, rather than from hand use associated with other, non-communicative motor actions, including tool use and coordinated bimanual actions, as has been previously suggested in the literature.

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