Iconic gesturing in bonobos

E. Genty, K. Zuberbühler

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13 Citations (Scopus)
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We comment on a recent behavioral study in which we describe a human-like beckoning gesture in 2 groups of bonobos, used in combination with sexual solicitation postures. The beckoning gesture fulfils key criteria of deixis and iconicity, in that it communicates to a distant recipient the desired travel path in relation to a specific social intention, i.e., to have sex at another location. We discuss this finding in light of the fact that, despite the documented great ape capacity and obvious communicative advantage, referential gestures are still surprisingly rare in their natural communication. We address several possibilities for this peculiar underuse and are most compelled by the notion that non-human primates are generally not very motivated to share their experiences of external objects or events with others, which removes most reasons for referential signaling.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere992742
JournalCommunicative and Integrative Biology
Issue number1
Early online date9 Mar 2015
Publication statusPublished - 2015


  • Bonobos
  • Communication
  • Iconic gestures
  • Language
  • Referentiality


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