Intraspecific gestural laterality in chimpanzees and gorillas and the impact of social propensities

Abstract : A relevant approach to address the mechanisms underlying the emergence of the right-handedness/left-hemisphere language specialization of humans is to investigate both proximal and distal causes of language lateralization through the study of non-human primates’ gestural laterality. We carried out the first systematic, quantitative comparison of within-subjects’ and between-species’ laterality by focusing on the laterality of intraspecific gestures of chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) and gorillas (Gorilla gorilla) living in six different captive groups. We addressed the following two questions: (1) Do chimpanzees and gorillas exhibit stable direction of laterality when producing different types of gestures at the individual level? If yes, is it related to the strength of laterality? (2) Is there a species difference in gestural laterality at the population level? If yes, which factors could explain this difference? During 1356 observation hours, we recorded 42335 cases of dyadic gesture use in the six groups totalling 39 chimpanzees and 35 gorillas. Results showed that both species could exhibit either stability or flexibility in their direction of gestural laterality. These results suggest that both stability and flexibility may have differently modulated the strength of laterality depending on the species social structure and dynamics. Furthermore, a multifactorial analysis indicates that these particular social components may have specifically impacted gestural laterality through the influence of gesture sensory modality and the position of the recipient in the signaller’s visual field during interaction. Our findings provide further support to the social theory of laterality origins proposing that social pressures may have shaped laterality through natural selection.
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Jacques Prieur, Simone Pika, Stéphanie Barbu, Catherine Blois-Heulin. Intraspecific gestural laterality in chimpanzees and gorillas and the impact of social propensities. Brain Research, Elsevier, 2017, 1670, pp.52 - 67. ⟨10.1016/j.brainres.2017.05.033⟩. ⟨hal-01542694⟩

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