The secret of monkey gestures


11/02/2011

British zoo workers noticed some monkeys living in a group of mandrills, sometimes making strange gestures: they covered his eyes with one hand. At first glance, this gesture has no special significance. But it often happens that they did this, when there is no sun at all, and their eyes were opened at this point. Researcher Mike Laydr (Mark Laidre) put the theory: to close her eyes - a kind of sign "do not disturb" used low-ranking monkeys to keep others away. And because it does not seem to occur among other mandrills - both tribal and wild - Laydr, a researcher from the University of California, believes that this can be a sign of confirmation of public culture in animals.

In 1999, the zoo staff first noticed the gesture with a young female mandrills, Millie. But no one for a long time did not give it value as long as Laydr not visited the zoo in 2007. From this point of view, he watched the mandrills in Africa, Europe and North America for more than 5 years.

Based on the scientific perspective, culture is the behavior to which learning from others, which varies depending on the type of population. What is unique to humans, was seen in animals. In many cases, examples of conduct laid trained in the physical environment: sea sponges are convenient tools for the dolphins to protect its beak or nose while searching for prey.

There is also evidence that animals, like humans, can use gestures that have a purely social significance. Thus, the middle finger gesture to be known example for North America. Among the animals, almost all based on the culture of gestures identified so far only in monkeys. This is Laydr wrote in a research paper published in February in the journal PLoS ONE. Laydr spent 100 hours in 2007 and 2008, watching a group of 23 mandrills. From this point of view, the gesture was already firmly established among some members of the group.

He drew attention to the fact that the mandrills, the largest of all species of monkeys that live in the equatorial forests of West Africa, has always remained motionless, performing the gesture. In addition, they covered their eyes with his hand not from direct sunlight and kept looking through his fingers. He also found that while the animals covered their eyes, a gesture that could last from 6 seconds to 17 minutes, the other monkeys did not fit and did not touch them at all.

Not all of mandrills in the group used this gesture - in fact, all 7 animals showing gesture, including the only female Millie, belonged to the bottom rung of the social hierarchy. Covering the eyes seemed to serve to reflect all social interactions, but in his analysis Laydr noted that it could allow low-ranking monkeys to avoid attacks and harassment of higher-ranking individuals.

Like little children, monkeys do not realize that others have intentions that are different from their own. Thus, it is possible that covering up their eyes, the monkeys thought that they hid. When you touch the other monkeys, they have reacted negatively, thus creating an association between the gesture and the backlash in response to the approach or touch.

It is also possible that the condition of slavery played a role. In the forest, mandrills live in larger groups that males leave for six months. This disappearance may allow younger males avoid disturbances older males, but in captivity it’s impossible.

"They are in a closed environment, they should mostly be dealing with each other" - he said, noting that whereas the mandrills have a strict social hierarchy, individuals of higher rank less oppressive than other apes. Create and distribute a gesture most likely to happen at random, "just as in human culture."

Original: LiveScience Translation: M. Potter


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