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Scratching Beneath the Surface: Intentionality in Great Ape Signal production

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Publication details

JournalPhilosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
DateAccepted/In press - 9 Jun 2019
DateE-pub ahead of print (current) - 18 Nov 2019
Number of pages11
Pages (from-to)1-11
Early online date18/11/19
Original languageEnglish


Despite important similarities having been found between human and animal communication systems, surprisingly little research effort has focussed on whether the cognitive mechanisms underpinning these behaviours are also similar. In particular, it is highly debated whether signal production is the result of reflexive processes, or can be characterised as intentional. Here, we critically evaluate the criteria that are used to identify signals produced with different degrees of intentionality, and discuss recent attempts to apply these criteria to the vocal, gestural, and multimodal communicative signals of great apes and more distantly related species. Finally, we outline the necessary research tools, such as physiologically validated measures of arousal, and empirical evidence that we believe would propel this debate forward and help unravel the evolutionary origins of human intentional communication.

Bibliographical note

© 2019 The Author(s) Published by the Royal Society. All rights reserved.

    Research areas

  • Intentional communication, signal production, vocalisations, gestures, language evolution

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