Captive gorillas’ manual laterality: The impact of gestures, manipulators and interaction specificity

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Relationships between humans’ manual laterality in non-communicative and communicative functions are still poorly understood. Recently, studies showed that chimpanzees’ manual laterality is influenced by functional, interactional and individual factors and their mutual intertwinement. However, what about manual laterality in species living in stable social groups? We tackled this question by studying three groups of captive gorillas (N = 35) and analysed their most frequent manual signals: three manipulators and 16 gesture types. Our multifactorial investigation showed that conspecific-directed gestures were overall more right-lateralized than conspecific-directed manipulators. Furthermore, it revealed a difference between conspecific- and human-directed gestural laterality for signallers living in one of the study groups. Our results support the hypothesis that gestural laterality is a relevant marker of language left-brain specialisation. We suggest that components of communication and of manipulation (not only of an object but also of a conspecific) do not share the same lateralised cerebral system in some primate species.

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