Maternal cradling bias drives early handedness in infant monkeys: A longitudinal study of grasping lateralization in baboons


  • Boulinguez-Ambroise Grégoire
  • Pouydebat Emmanuelle
  • Disarbois Éloïse
  • Meguerditchian Adrien

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The most emblematic behavioral manifestation of human brain asymmetries is handedness. While the precise mechanisms behind the development of handedness are still widely debated, empirical evidences highlight that besides genetic factors, environmental factors may play a crucial role. As one of these factors, maternal cradling behavior may play a key role in the emergence of early handedness in the offspring. In the present study we followed 41 olive baboon ( Papio anubis ) infants living in different social groups with their mother for which direction (e.g., left- or right-arm) and degree of maternal cradling-side bias were available from our previous published study. We assessed hand preferences for an unimanual grasping task at 3 developmental stages: (1) 0-4, (2) 4-6 and (3) 9-10 months of age. We found that individual hand preferences for grasping exist as soon as the first months of age, with a population-level left-handedness predominance, being stable until 6 months; to wit the period during which juveniles are mainly carried by their mothers. More importantly, this early postnatal handedness is positively correlated with maternal cradling lateralization. Interestingly, hand preferences assessed later in the development, once juveniles are no longer carried (i.e., from 9 to 10 months of age), are less consistent with the earlier developmental stages and no longer dependent from the maternal cradling bias. Our findings suggest that the ontogenetic dynamics of the infant’s hand preference and its changes might ultimately rely on the degree of infant dependence from the mother across development.

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