Hand preferences in captive orangutans (pongo pygmaeus)

Robert C. O'Malley, W. C. McGrew

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Citations (Scopus)


The strength of the evidence for population-level handedness in the great apes is a topic of consid- erable debate, yet there have been few studies of hand- edness in orangutans. We conducted a study of manual lateralization in a captive group of eight orangutans (Pongo pygmaeus) ranking the degrees of manual pref- erence according to a defined framework. We analyzed five behavioral patterns: eat (one- and two-handed), make/modify tool, oral tool-use, and manual tool-use. Although some individuals showed significant manual preferences for one or more tasks, at the group-level both one-handed and two-handed eating, oral tool-use, and make/modify tool were ranked at level 1 (unlater- alized). Manual tool-use was ranked at level 2, with four subjects demonstrating significant hand preferences, but no group-level bias to the right or left. Four subjects also showed hand specialization to the right or left across several tasks. These results are consistent with most previous studies of manual preference in orangutans. The emergence of manual lateralization in orangutans may relate to more complex manipulative tasks. We hypothesize that more challenging manual tasks elicit stronger hand preferences.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)279-283
Number of pages5
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 8 Apr 2006


  • Handedness
  • Manual laterality
  • Orangutan
  • Pongo pygmaeus
  • Tool use


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