Training experience in gestures affects the display of social gaze in baboons’ communication with a human


  • Bourjade Marie
  • Canteloup Charlotte
  • Meguerditchian Adrien
  • Vauclair Jacques
  • Gaunet Florence


  • Intentionality
  • Joint attention
  • Referential communication
  • Requesting gestures
  • Gaze alternation
  • Nonhuman primates

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Gaze behaviour, notably the alternation of gaze between distal objects and social partners that accompanies primates’ gestural communication is considered a standard indicator of intentionality. However, the developmental precursors of gaze behaviour in primates’ communication are not well understood. Here, we capitalized on the training in gestures dispensed to olive baboons (Papio anubis) as a way of manipulating individual communicative experience with humans. We aimed to delineate the effects of such a training experience on gaze behaviour displayed by the monkeys in relation with gestural requests. Using a food-requesting paradigm, we compared subjects trained in requesting gestures (i.e., trained subjects) to naïve subjects (i.e., control subjects) for their occurrences of (i) gaze behaviour, (ii) requesting gestures, and (iii) temporal combination of gaze alternation with gestures. We found that training did not affect the frequencies of looking at the human’s face, looking at food or alternating gaze. Hence, social gaze behaviour occurs independently from the amount of communicative experience with humans. However, trained baboons -gesturing more than control subjects- exhibited most gaze alternation combined with gestures, whereas control baboons did not. By reinforcing the display of gaze alternation along with gestures, we suggest that training may have served to enhance the communicative function of hand gestures. Finally, this study brings the first quantitative report of monkeys producing requesting gestures without explicit training by humans (controls). These results may open a window on the developmental mechanisms (i.e., incidental learning vs. training) underpinning gestural intentional communication in primates.

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