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New research reveals chimps like to show off like humans

The discovery suggests that in certain social conditions, wild chimpanzees can share experiences with each other, using gestures to comment or remark on their world.

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By Stephen Beech via SWNS

Cheeky chimps are real show-offs, new research reveals.

A wild chimpanzee has been observed showing an object to her mother simply for sharing’s sake – behavior previously thought to be unique to humans.

Scientists - including researchers from the universities of Warwick and York - captured footage of the chimp called Fiona encouraging her mother to join her in looking at a leaf.

They say the discovery suggests that in certain social conditions, wild chimpanzees can share experiences with each other, using gestures to comment or remark on their world.

Humans begin to use referential gestures to show or point out objects or events of interest to others in the first year of life.

But, until now, primates have never been seen engaging in such behavior; all previously documented referential gestures in primates were given to request something, not just to share attention.

Study lead author Dr. Claudia Wilke, of York University, said: “People love sharing experiences with each other - social media capitalizes on this trait, and even in our first year of life we start to show others interesting things we’ve found.

“It has been suggested that ‘sharing for sharing’s sake’ is a uniquely human trait, but our observation of these wild chimpanzees challenges this.

"We observed an adult chimpanzee showing her mother a leaf she had been grooming, not because she wanted her to do anything with the leaf, but most likely because she simply wanted her to also look at the leaf.”

Co-author Simon Townsend, of the universities of Warwick and Zurich, said: “Our observations suggest that in specific social circumstances chimps may show each other objects of interest, to share attention about them, and that this behavior may not be unique to humans”

The research team captured video evidence of an adult female, Fiona, showing a leaf to her mother, called Sutherland, in Uganda's Kibale Forest.

(Courtesy of PNAS)

They examined more than 80 similar leaf-grooming events in order to rule out alternative explanations for the behavior, including food sharing and initiating grooming or playing.

Now the team is planning further research on communities of chimps to see if they can observe others engaging in 'showing and sharing' behavior.

The researchers say the discovery could have implications for our understanding of the evolution of human social cognition and what makes human minds unique.

Co-author, Professor Katie Slocombe, of York University, said: “While there is a need to identify further examples of this behavior in chimpanzees, our observations indicate that sharing attention for sharing’s sake is not unique to humans.

"It has been argued that our ability to share experiences helped us to evolve the cognitive abilities that set us apart from other species, such as our capacity for joint action, cooperation and language."

She added: “Our observations raise new questions about why humans share experiences more often than our closest living relatives and whether engaging in this behavior at a higher frequency than other species can still explain the evolution of cognitive functions underpinning human social behavior.”

The study was published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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