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Toddlers Are 'Tiny Apes' With The Same Non-Verbal Language As Chimpanzees

Sep 13, 2018 07:33 PM EDT
Toddlers and chimpanzees share a lot of similarities, according to scientists. A new study reveals that children aged 1 to 2 years old have the same gestures as chimps when they want attention.
(Photo : Stefan Roelofs | Pixabay)

Ape behavior can be uncannily humanlike. Now, new research says it's particularly apparent on toddlers who share 89 percent of their gestures with chimpanzees.

Young children between the ages of one and two years old are not yet well-versed in verbal languages. However, these kids already get the gist of communicating, and scientists say that they use the same non-verbal language as some primates, especially chimps.

Humans 'Talk' Like Other Apes

In the study published in the journal Animal Cognition, an international team of scientists highlighted these similarities. Toddlers were found to use 52 gestures to communicate, 46 (89 percent) of which are also used by chimpanzees regularly.

Wild apes are known to use more than 80 different gestures, most of which have been extensively studied by scientists who recently completed the online Great Ape Dictionary.

"Wild chimpanzees, gorillas, bonobos and orang-utans all use gestures to communicate their day-to-day requests, but until now there was always one ape missing from the picture — us," Dr. Catherine Hobaiter, senior study author from the School of Psychology and Neuroscience at the University of St Andrews, says in a statement from the university.

The Study

The researchers analyzed the behavior of 13 children from Germany and Uganda, according to Gizmodo, all of which were observed in their "natural habitat" at home or daycare. The chimpanzees, who ranged from one to 51 years old, were also observed in their own turf, the Budongo Forest in Uganda.

"We used exactly the same approach to study young chimpanzees and children, which makes sense — children are just tiny apes," Hobaiter continues.

In the beginning of the study, the team were expecting the two species to share a few gestures. However, they were surprised to discover that many "ape" gestures are also being employed by toddlers.

Both young children and young apes were found to combine the gestures to ask for various things.

However, a number of gestures such as waving the hand to greet or say goodbye appears to be exclusively human. The toddlers also pointed a lot more than the chimpanzees.

Shared Evolutionary History Likely Behind The Similarities

According to the authors, the shared behavioral qualities of humans and chimpanzees can be traced to the pair's common origins.

"Since chimpanzees and humans shared a common ancestor around 5-6 million years ago, we wanted to know whether our evolutionary history of communication is also reflected in human development," Dr. Verena Kersken, first author from the University of Göttingen, says.

Of course, Gizmodo points out that another possible explanation for the shared gestures is the similar bodies of humans and chimpanzees. Many of the gestures noted in the study, such as reaching out for an object, cannot be accomplished by other species due to their different physiology.

Hobaiter, Kersken, and the rest of the team are recommending further studies on a larger set of children as well as the inclusion of other apes such as bonobos who are said to be an even closer relative to humans than chimps.

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