Language and Societies

ANT/LIN 5320 at Wayne State University

Differences in opportunity teaching styles between multiparous and uniparous chimpanzee mothers suggest that experienced mothers are better teachers

Differences in opportunity teaching styles between multiparous and uniparous chimpanzee mothers suggest that experienced mothers are better teachers

Katilyn Gerstner

While eastern chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes schweinfurthii) are the most commonly studied chimpanzees, due to the abundancy of populations, a gap in teaching methodologies of this critical species is still apparent in current literature. Recent video evidence of chimpanzees termite fishing from the Goualougo Triangle Ape Project in the Democratic Republic of the Congo demonstrates facilitated learning with tool-exchanging from mothers to offspring through instances of opportunity teaching. Opportunity teaching is defined as an instructor modifying their behavior at some cost or for no benefit to facilitate learning for another individual, usually a juvenile. To evaluate the degree of opportunity teaching for this chimpanzee population, this research conducts a literature review about chimpanzee non-verbal communication in combination with analysis of video footage taken of mother-offspring interactions at these termite mounds in Gombe National Park. Specifically, video analysis with focus on the chimpanzees’ nonverbal cues, gestures, and body language between these two populations. Results demonstrate that mothers with multiple offspring (multiparous) use a variation of behaviors that fall into the category of opportunity teaching, while first time (uniparous) mothers are not seen to demonstrate those behaviors. Although tool exchange is rare, multiparous mothers also tolerate tool theft and use swatting gestures to ween offspring; two alternative strategies of opportunity teaching. The data suggests two possibilities: that chimpanzees demonstrate teaching style variations between the two populations, and secondly that experienced mothers show more examples of teaching than non-experienced mothers. This research supports other studies of opportunity teaching in chimpanzee populations revealing that linguistic analysis can lead to a deeper understanding of teaching strategies in primates.

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April 6, 2017 - Posted by | abstract

1 Comment »

  1. I really like the direction of your paper as it highlights something that too many of us overlook within linguistics – nonverbal communication (arguably the most important form of communication?). Were these results consistent with your hypothesis? -That multiparous mothers use opportunity teaching and uniparous mothers do not, or were not observed to do so. What do you think are the greater implications for understanding great ape behavior? It certainly seems to blur the lines even further between what is “culture”…

    Comment by Kelsey Jorgensen | April 6, 2017 | Reply


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