Navigation Links
If bonobo Kanzi can point as humans do, what other similarities can rearing reveal?

Des Moines, Iowa March 1, 2010 You may have more in common with Kanzi, Panbanisha and Nyota, three language-competent bonobos living at Great Ape Trust, than you thought. And those similarities, right at your fingertip, might one day tell scientists more about the effect of culture on neurological disorders that limit human expression.

Among humans, pointing is a universal language, an alternative to spoken words to convey a message. Before they speak, infants point, a gesture scientists agree is closely associated with word learning. But when an ape points, scientists break rank on the question of whether pointing is a uniquely human behavior. Some of the world's leading voices in modern primatology have argued that although apes may gesture in a way that resembles human pointing, the genetic and cognitive differences between apes and humans are so great that the apes' signals have no specific intent.

Not so, say Great Ape Trust scientists, who argued in a recently published scientific paper, "Why Apes Point: Pointing Gestures in Spontaneous Conversation of Language-Competent Pan/Homo Bonobos," that not only do Kanzi, Panbanisha and Nyota point with their index fingers in conversation as a human being might, these bonobos do so with specific intent and objectives in mind.

The difference between pointing by the Great Ape Trust bonobos the only ones in the world with receptive competence for spoken English and other captive apes that make hand gestures is explained by the culture in which they were reared, according to the paper's authors: Janni Pedersen, an Iowa State University Ph.D. candidate conducting research for her dissertation at Great Ape Trust; Pr Segerdahl, a scientist from Sweden who has published several philosophical inquires into language; and William M. Fields, an ethnographer investigating language, culture and tools in non-human primates. Fields also is Great Ape Trust's director of scientific research.

Because Kanzi, Panbanisha and Nyota were raised in a culture where pointing has a purpose The Trust's hallmark Pan/Homo environment, where infant bonobos are reared with both bonobo (Pan paniscus) and human (Homo sapiens) influences their pointing is as scientifically meaningful as their understanding of spoken English, Fields said.

The pointing study supports and builds on previous research on the effect of rearing culture on cognitive capabilities, including the 40-year research corpus of Dr. Duane Rumbaugh, Dr. Sue Savage-Rumbaugh and Fields, which is the foundation of the scientific inquiry at Great Ape Trust. Those studies included the breakthrough finding that Kanzi and other bonobos with receptive competence for spoken English acquired language as human children do by being exposed to it since infancy. The bonobos adopted finger-pointing behavior for the same reasons, because they were reared in a culture where pointing has meaning.

"We have argued that apes and humans, while very closely related genetically, differ most dramatically in culture," Fields said. "Pointing is a function of culture. If Kanzi can do the kinds of things that he is able to do as a function of rearing, what does that mean for humans?"

Fields said studying the effect of culture on great apes' cognitive capabilities might help scientists learn more about human disorders that cause developmental delays. "This opens the entire question of how you push the limits of genes by cultural forces, for instance in Down's Syndrome or other genetic variations that limit normal human expression," he said. "What is the role of culture as a mitigating strategy for Autistic Spectrum Disorders? Is IQ a function of culture?"

Answering those questions brings scientists a step closer to determining the role of epigenesis the influence of the environment on the expression of the genetic code in a variety of disciplines, including medicine, education and technology.

The Great Ape Trust scientists conducted the study in rebuttal to a paper written by Michael Tomasello, a leading expert on evolution and communication. Tomasello, co-director of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Germany, asserted in "Why Apes Don't Point" that though captive apes may appear to point, the genetic and cognitive differences between apes and humans are so great that there is no specific intent behind the gesture.

Pedersen et al. argued that an ape that was not reared in a culture where index finger pointing was common, including most captive apes, would not be expected to exhibit that gesture. The scientists also noted that although pointing isn't a behavior that wild bonobos and other great apes acquire on their own, it does not mean that they are genetically or cognitively incapable of learning the behavior.

"Tomasello's argument rests upon questionable empirical evidence," Pedersen and her colleagues wrote, "since the apes in the referred experimental studies have not been relevantly reared. By providing evidence that language-encultured apes do point, the assumptions about the cognitive differences between humans and apes need to be called into question on both theoretical and empirical ground."


Contact: Al Setka
Great Ape Trust of Iowa

Related biology news :

1. Duke, Harvard researchers to monitor bonobo reintroduction
2. Despite peacenik reputation, bonobos hunt and eat other primates too
3. Great Ape Trust graduate students paper sheds light on bonobo language
4. Books plea: Save the bonobos
5. Study points to role of antioxidant balance in bird health and reproduction
6. Presence of snails points to forest recovery
7. 2 years old -- a childhood obesity tipping point?
8. New UC Davis study: Climate tipping points may arrive without warning, says top forecaster
9. Digital Dining Customers Demand Fingerprint Biometrics in Point-of-Sale Technology
10. Discovery points toward anti-inflammation treatment for blinding disease
11. Retail Anywhere Adds U.are.U Biometrics From DigitalPersona to Flagship Point of Sale Solution
Post Your Comments:
Related Image:
If bonobo Kanzi can point as humans do, what other similarities can rearing reveal?
(Date:4/15/2016)...  A new partnership announced today will help ... in a fraction of the time it takes ... life insurance policies to consumers without requiring inconvenient ... Diagnostics, rapid testing (A1C, Cotinine and HIV) and ... weight, pulse, BMI, and activity data) available at ...
(Date:3/31/2016)... , March 31, 2016 ... ) ("LegacyXChange" or the "Company") LegacyXChange is ... users of its soon to be launched online site ... ) will also provide potential shareholders ... of DNA technology to an industry that is notorious ...
(Date:3/22/2016)... , March 22, 2016 ... report "Electronic Sensors Market for Consumer Industry by Type ... Others), Application (Communication & IT, Entertainment, Home ... Global Forecast to 2022", published by MarketsandMarkets, ... expected to reach USD 26.76 Billion by ...
Breaking Biology News(10 mins):
(Date:6/27/2016)... , June 27, 2016  Liquid Biotech ... announced the funding of a Sponsored Research Agreement ... circulating tumor cells (CTCs) from cancer patients.  The ... in CTC levels correlate with clinical outcomes in ... These data will then be employed to support ...
(Date:6/24/2016)... , ... June 24, 2016 , ... While the majority ... as the Cary 5000 and the 6000i models are higher end machines that use ... height of the spectrophotometer’s light beam from the bottom of the cuvette holder. ...
(Date:6/23/2016)... June 23, 2016   Boston Biomedical , ... compounds designed to target cancer stemness pathways, announced ... granted Orphan Drug Designation from the U.S. Food ... gastric cancer, including gastroesophageal junction (GEJ) cancer. Napabucasin ... to inhibit cancer stemness pathways by targeting STAT3, ...
(Date:6/23/2016)... ... June 23, 2016 , ... Charm ... Mold) microbial test has received AOAC Research Institute approval 061601. , “This is ... last year,” stated Bob Salter, Vice President of Regulatory and Industrial Affairs. “The ...
Breaking Biology Technology: