Abstract # 134:

Scheduled for Sunday, September 18, 2011 10:15 AM-10:30 AM: Session 18 (Meeting Room 410) Oral Presentation


J. L. Russell1,2, S. L. Bogart1,3, J. A. Schaeffer1, J. P. Taglialatela1,2 and W. D. Hopkins1,3
1Yerkes National Primate Research Center, Division of Developmental and Cognitive Neuroscience, Atlanta, Georgia 30322, USA, 2Department of Biology and Physics, Kennesaw State University, Kennesaw, Georgia 30144, 3Department of Psychology and Neuroscience, Agnes Scott College, Decatur, Georgia 30030

Recent data demonstrate that chimpanzees are sensitive to the attentional state of a human experimenter and use modality-specific signals to communicate. Specifically, chimpanzees are more likely to produce visual signals (e.g. manual gestures) when an experimenter is facing them and to produce auditory signals (e.g. vocalizations) when the experimenter is facing away. Furthermore, vocalizations used in these contexts are learned, context specific, and under volitional control. However, there is considerable individual variability in the use of these attention-getting vocalizations with some individuals using them regularly while others have never been observed to produce them. We hypothesized that chimpanzees that reliably produce these sounds (V+) would show greater aptitude in other areas of communication when compared to individuals who do not vocalize in this context (V-), but would exhibit no differences in non-social tasks. To examine this, we compared V+ and V- subjects on tests focusing on communicative competency with a human experimenter, including signal production and perception, as well as tests of non-communicative skills including understanding of spatial relationships, causality and quantity discrimination. V+ subjects significantly outperformed V- subjects on communication tasks, t(25) = -3.04, p<.01 but showed no difference in the non-communicative tasks. These data indicate that chimpanzees who produce attention-getting vocalizations also demonstrate greater competency in other communicative domains, raising important questions regarding the role of vocal learning and flexibility in language evolution.