When I was born, I was quite furry with big sticky out ears. My mother thought I looked a bit like a monkey. She told the nurses, who told her off: “Mrs Addyman, he’s not a monkey, he’s your beautiful baby.” Which, of course, only made her say it all more.
– “Bring me my monkey!”
Now, of couse, as we have all known since Charles Darwin first pointed it out, we are monkeys. (Yes, I know that technically the great apes aren’t monkeys*. But if you tell me off about it, I’ll just say it all the more.) But, now Kristen Gillespie-Lynch and Patricia M. Greenfield, have study published in Frontiers in Psychology, showing that all baby primates use a similiar set of gestures.
They compared video footage of a female chimpanzee, a female bonobo and a female human infant to compare different types of communicative gestures during development. For example, babies of all three species would raise their hands above their heads when they wanted to be picked up. The researchers just this is evidence for the “gestures first” theory of the evolution of language.
Of course, for all the similarities, there are plenty of differences. Firstly new born chimp and bonobo are lot more competent than new born humans. They have to be, their parents aren’t as attentive as human parents and human babies are not as developed when they arrived. Compared to other primates human babies are effectively born a few months prematurely. Our giant heads mean that we can’t safely be born at the same level of development as chimps, bonobos or gorillas. But once they build up a bit of manual dexterity, human babies rapidly outstrip their chimpy cousins. And once language kicks in, we’re a whole different species.
We laugh a lot more too. Both chimps and bonobos joke and play. They even laugh, after a fashion (See this video of a giggling little chimp) But, as this study points out, they are a lot less vocal than our species. Vocalization was rare for the non-human primates but very common for the baby girl in this study. Remember, that laughter is a form of communication. And it’s one that humans have a mastery from extremely early in life. Gestures are certainly an important part of our communicative skill and may well have been more important a couple of million years earlier in our pre-history. But once we started laughing we never stopped.
If you have a video of your baby laughing, please share it with us to help with our research.
- Human Infants and Apes Utilize Same Gestures Descended From a Shared Ancestor 6 Million Years Ago (latinospost.com)
- Gestures of Human and Ape Infants Are More Similar Than You Might Expect (blogs.smithsonianmag.com)
- Apes are emotional about choices (bbc.co.uk)
- *What’s the difference between great apes and monkeys? (primatefutures.wordpress.com)