Dr. Amy Pollick
I was a graduate student with the Living Links Center from 2000 - 2006 and my work focused on great ape social communication, particularly manual gestures. Chimpanzees and bonobos use gestures in their natural habitat in many different contexts, such as feeding, aggression, sex, play, and reconciliation. While vocalizations and facial expressions play large communicative roles, gestures enable more flexible and subtle communication. With gestures individuals can increase the intensity of another signal, and increase their overall communicative power. Particularly in combination with other signals, more possibilities exist for how and why a receiver of these signals decides to respond. This kind of multimodal communication may have been the springboard for the evolution of human communication.
Vocal communication has long been a fertile area for questions about the evolution of communication, but gesture poses a unique avenue for research because apes, who are our closest living relatives, possess greater control of their hands than of their voices. Thus, apes may be able to communicate more intentionally with these signals and combine them in such a way to maintain greater control over the message they want to send. Multimodal signaling provides a platform for understanding the evolution of a complex communicative strategy, one that humans and apes may have shared with a common ancestor.
My research aims to uncover what specific contribution gestures make to the communicative exchanges among apes. My dissertation work compares multimodal usage of gestures in two groups of chimpanzees (at the Yerkes National Primate Research Center Field Station) and two groups of bonobos (at the San Diego Zoo and Wild Animal Park).