2007-08-27

Non-verbal communication

A recent article in Current Biology“Orangutans Modify Their Gestural Signaling According to Their Audience's Comprehension” by Cartmill and Byrne describes how orangutans adapt their gestures to whether they consider themselves to have been understood or not. To be more precise, the orangutans were offered fruit and vegetables and would make signs to indicate that they wanted the tasty bananas rather than the icky leeks. Now, if they just got half a banana they would make more emphatic gestures of the same kind to clarify that they wanted all of it, but if they got leeks, they would try different gestures to indicate that they wanted the banana. This then indicates that they have a concept of different modes of misunderstanding and that they have different strategies for alleviating different misunderstandings, which then in turn has consequences for hypotheses of the evolution of communication in apes.

This reminded me of another non-speaking primate, namely the Only-begotten Son when he was younger. At one point we had happened to buy a big bag of ice lollies which he took to, sweet, cold and brightly-coloured as they were, so he would gladly have eaten nothing but them. His parents however thought that even two a day were quite a lot, especially considering the Technicolor results they left in his diapers. So, one day the little tyke comes and takes me by the hand and pulls me to the kitchen where he eagerly points towards the freezer. I decide to play stupid and claim I do not understand what he wants. The little one immediately zips off and returns moments later with a used lolly stick in his hand, holds it up to me and points at the freezer with the other hand. I could but capitulate and give him his prize…

2 comments:

ArchAsa said...

Brilliant! I have capitulated myself in the presence of wonderful communicative/manipulative advances like that :D

I recently finished a popular but seriously written book about cognitive science by Per Gärdenfors: "How Homo became sapiens". It is full of very interesting examples of similarities and differences between primates and human children in different stages of development. And the varying degrees of consciousness.

Stuff like that really grabs my attention, especially when one has two little subjects running around at home (children, not apes...)

kai said...

Ah, but surely your children are apes too. :-)

I'll look for the book.