What Role Do Mothers Play in the Gestural Acquisition of Bonobos (Pan paniscus) and Chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes)?

Christel Schneider, Josep Call, Katja Liebal

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

23 Citations (SciVal)


Contemporary research hypothesizes that biological inheritance and ontogenetic factors shape the development of gestural communication in nonhuman great apes. However, little is known about the specific role that mothers play in the acquisition of their infants' gestures. We observed 6 bonobo (Pan paniscus) and 4 chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes) mother-infant dyads and recorded their gesture types and frequency. We analyzed all behavioral contexts in which gestures occurred as well as the play context alone. Infants of both species were unlikely to share gestures with their mother or unrelated adult females. However, gestural sharing was prevalent within age groups. Within and across species, infant-infant and mother-mother groups were homogeneous regarding the types of gestures they shared, although there was individual variation in the frequency of gesture use. Our findings provide limited evidence that infants learned their gestures by imitating their mothers. Phylogenetic influences seem to be vital in gestural acquisition but, we suggest, repertoire development cannot be disentangled from individual social encounters during life.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)246-262
Number of pages17
JournalInternational Journal of Primatology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2012


  • Bonobo
  • Chimpanzee
  • Communication
  • Gesture acquisition
  • Mother-infant dyad

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Animal Science and Zoology


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