chimpanzees communication
Communication between chimpanzees is similar to humans as they 'take turn' speaking M. Froehlich / Max Planck Institute for Ornithology

Like humans, chimpanzees and bonobos take turn to speak, scientists have said. Analysing 'conversations' between mothers and babies, they explain communication between apes is based on mutual cooperation.

Previously, studies had suggested that bonobos and chimpanzees – humans' closest relatives – displayed a certain amount of cooperation in their behaviours, but that their communicative interactions seem to lack the cooperative nature of human conversation.

This research, published in Scientific Reports, challenges this assumption, showing that even though both species differ in their communication styles, their interactions are based on turn-taking sequences and gestures, just like humans.

Different monkey communities

The research team from the Max Planck Institute, conducted the first systematic comparison of communicative interactions in two different bonobo and two different chimpanzee communities in their natural environments. The bonobos were studied during two years in wildlife reserves in Congo, while the chimpanzees were observed in a national park in Côte D'Ivoire and another one in Uganda.

The researchers found out that exchanges in both species resemble cooperative turn-taking sequences in human conversation. However, bonobos appeared to use their gaze before initiating dialogue and to anticipate signals made by other monkeys before they had been fully articulated.

Chimps on the other hand engaged in more extended negotiations, involving frequent response waiting, pauses and gestural sequences.

The study also highlights the fact that the first fundamental steps towards human communication were gestures alone. Focusing on the gazes and gestures made than bonobos, who seem to greatly rely on such signals to take turn in speaking could provide scientists with the most representative model for understanding the prerequisites of human communication.