Do Chimps and Humans Communicate the Same?

USA TODAY, June 2008 | Go to article overview

Do Chimps and Humans Communicate the Same?


Gestures by chimpanzees are driven by signals emanating from the same part of the brain that humans use to communicate, according to studies conducted at the Yerkes National Primate Research Center, Atlanta, Ga. Lead researcher William Hopkins, associate professor of psychology at Atlanta's Agnes Scott College, says the study demonstrates that chimps and humans may share a common ancestry in terms of the origin of communication.

"We believe this is the first time scientists have linked chimpanzee and human brain areas associated with communicative behaviors," asserts Hopkins. "This finding suggests that chimpanzee communication is not only more complicated than previously thought, but that the neurobiological foundations of human language may have been present in the common ancestor of modern humans and chimpanzees."

The neuro-researchers scanned the brains of chimps as they grunted and gestured at humans for food, Scientists found that a certain area of the cerebral cortex lit up during the brain scan when they gestured or made "raspberry" sounds by vibrating their lips or food grunts. Hopkins notes that the area that was active during these moments generally is the same area as that used by humans (called Broca) for language.

The study also debunks a long-held theory that brains are asymmetrical only in humans. Hopkins and Claudio Cantalupo, a neuropsychologist at Clemson (S. …

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