The Role of Past Interactions in Great Apes’ Communication About Absent Entities

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Recent evidence suggests that great apes can use the former location of an entity to communicate about it. In this study we built on these findings to investigate the social–cognitive foundations of great apes’ communicative abilities. We tested whether great apes (n = 35) would adjust their requests for absent entities to previous interactions they had with their interlocutor. We manipulated the apes’ experience with respect to the interlocutor’s knowledge about the previous content of the now-empty location as well as their experience with the interlocutor’s competence to provide additional food items. We found that apes adjusted their requests to both of these aspects but failed to integrate them with one another. These results demonstrate a surprising amount of flexibility in great apes’ communicative abilities while at the same time suggesting some important limitations in their social communicative skills.

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