Animal pointing: Changing trends and findings from 30 years of research.

In this paper we examine trends in the literature on pointing in nonhumans

Mark A. Krause; Monique A. R. Udell; David A. Leavens; Lyra Skopos


Scholarcy highlights

  • The past 30 years have witnessed a continued and growing interest in the production and comprehension of manual pointing gestures in nonhuman animals
  • The vast majority of research on pointing in animals has been conducted on captive animals, and the initial studies focused on pointing in nonhuman primates
  • The diversity of species studied has grown considerably, with initial studies focusing on nonhuman primates and expanding to 611 include many non-primate species of both wild and domesticated stock
  • Increased use of the object-choice task, providing a standardized measure to assess pointing comprehension, has opened up possibilities for studying pointing across many species, most of which do not communicate by extending a limb or digit 614 and would not be captured by the literature examining the capacity to produce pointing gestures
  • In the early phases of the 30-year period we have reviewed, investigators and critics alike focused on the basic question of whether animals, nonhuman primates, are capable of pointing
  • Our criteria for evaluating species capacity included whether an overall main effect was found in an omnibus test such as ANOVA, or if 50% or more of the individual animals performed above chance
  • It seemed plausible that the pointing observed in captive primates could be a modified form of food begging seen 621 among wild animals, or was referred to as “pointing-like” or “indicative gesturing,” with no significance or relationship to pointing by humans
  • A similar analysis is not available for language-trained chimpanzees, but there are numerous descriptions and observations of language-trained chimpanzees using an extended index finger while pointing, as well as forming the hand configurations required to create many other types of gesture and sign; importantly, these index-finger points were usually not subject to external physical constraints on the shapes of the pointing hands

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