When apes point the finger: Three great ape species fail to use a conspecific’s imperative pointing gesture

Interaction Studiesinteraction Studies Social Behaviour and Communication in Biological and Artificial Systems 14 (1):7-23 (2013)
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Abstract

In contrast to apes’ seemingly sophisticated skill at producing pointing gestures referentially, the comprehension of other individual’s pointing gestures as a source of indexical information seems to be less pronounced.One reason for apes’ difficulty at comprehending pointing gestures might be that in former studies they were mainly confronted with human declarative pointing gestures, whereas apes have largely been shown to point imperatively and towards humans. In the present study bonobos, chimpanzees and orangutans were confronted with a conspecific’s imperative pointing gesture in a competitive context, therefore mirroring former studies that have investigated apes’ skills at producing these gestures.However, apes in the present study did not use their conspecific’s pointing gestures. Apes have been shown to use indexical information when provided noncommunicatively and to interpret other individuals’ actions in terms of motives. Thus, it is discussed whether apes treat a pointing gesture as intentional act of indexical reference.

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