March 17, 2008
Study links chimp and human brain areas
By Emily Rios
Researchers at the Yerkes National Primate Research Center have found the area in the chimpanzee brain involved in the production of chimp manual gestures and vocalizations is similar to what is known as Broca’s area in the human brain. The study is the first to directly link chimpanzee and human brain areas associated with communicative behaviors, suggesting chimpanzee communication is not only more complicated than previously thought, but also that the neurobiological foundations of human language may have been present in the common ancestor of modern humans and chimpanzees.
Human functional imaging studies have shown significant patterns of activity in the Broca’s area during language-related tasks. For the study, researchers used positron emission tomography to monitor chimpanzee brain activity while chimpanzees gestured and called out to a nearby researcher for food. Imaging showed a considerable amount of activity in an area of the brain similar to Broca’s area.
“One interpretation of our finding is that chimpanzees have, in essence, a language-ready brain,” said lead researcher Jared Taglialatela. “Our results support that apes use this brain area when producing signals that are part of their communicative repertoire.”