Chimps' 'girl talk' uses more negative gestures

Chimpanzee Female chimps used more gestures of aggression when communicating with other females

Related Stories

Female chimpanzees are more "negative" when communicating with other females, research has found.

The study analysed the different gesturing strategies used by a group of females at Chester Zoo.

In female-female interactions, the chimps used more aggressive signals and "apologised" less often with gestures of reassurance.

But they employed a more positive strategy around males, with more expressions of greeting and submission.

"When communicating with males, females sort of 'suck up' to them," said PhD student Nicole Scott from the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, US, whose findings are published in the American Journal of Primatology.

Communication experts

Siamang hanging in a tree

How do siamang couples declare their love?

See a baby dolphin locate its mum from her calls

Take a lesson in apes' expressions

To carry out the research, Ms Scott video-recorded the behaviour of 17 females and five males in a group of chimps at Chester Zoo, UK.

"I defined gesture as an expressive movement of the limbs or head and body postures produced intentionally," she told BBC Nature.

Examination of overall behaviour in males and females showed no differences in the repertoire of gestures the animals used. But differences in communication appeared when individual interactions were analysed.

While females in the group adopted a different gesture strategy depending on the sex of a partner, the males did not.

Ms Scott suggests this indicates that female chimpanzees are more sensitive to the sex of their partner than males, and cater their gesture use accordingly.

According to the biologist, different "social pressures" on the sexes could explain the difference in communication strategies.

For example, males might have more positive relationships with other males because of the importance of male-male alliances and maintaining high social rank in a group.

But there may be less focus on female chimpanzees maintaining multiple, positive relationships with other females, and instead more pressure on them to form positive relationships with males.

Parallel lives

Ms Scott suggests the complex social behaviour seen in chimps, and highlighted in her study, may hint at our own actions:

"To speak anthropomorphically, I can certainly see some parallels in my own life: women are generally more aggressive and competitive with each other... [and] men do not change their behaviour outside the context of social rank," she said, referring to studies of gesture differences in humans.

Chimpanzees Female and male chimps face different social pressures

"Perhaps we inherited these traits from our ancestors, traits which were adaptive for their social pressures, but I'll leave that argument for the anthropologists."

She added that her analysis of female aggression could be controversial because "there is a belief in the field that males are more aggressive than females."

"Some researchers likely will have trouble accepting my results since I show that females are also aggressive," she said.

"It's not that they are more aggressive, just different from males in their use of aggression."

Join BBC Nature on Facebook and Twitter @BBCNature.

More on This Story

Related Stories

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites

More from nature

  • Cardinal fish and ostracodFish filmed spitting 'fireworks'

    Film crew captures ostracods' spectacular defensive lightshow that makes predatory fish spit them out.

  • Arapaima'Locally extinct'

    A giant fish which used to dominate the Amazon river is now absent in many areas

  • DragonflyRapid reactions

    Dragonfly's super quick reactions recorded in slow motion by BBC film-makers

  • Wingless adult male of the midge Belgica antarcticaExtreme survivor

    Antarctic midge's small genome may be an adaptation to its extreme environment

  • Myotis midastactus specimen (previously identified as Myotis simus)Golden discovery

    A bat from Bolivia is described as a new species by scientists

  • Dinosaurs 'shrank' to become birds

    Huge meat-eating, land-living dinosaurs evolved into birds by constantly shrinking for over 50 million years, new research shows.

  • Would we starve without bees?

    Honey bees are under threat, and as pollination significantly contributes to the food we eat, what would we do without them?

  • Eggshells may act like 'sunblock'

    Birds' eggs show adaptations in pigment concentration and thickness to allow the right amount of sun for embryos, scientists say.

  • Female shrimps are more aggressive

    Female snapping shrimps are more aggressive than males when defending their territories despite their smaller claw size, a study shows.

BBC iWonder

  • Honey bee close-upInsect intelligence

    Are honey bees as smart as your sat nav?

  • Tyrannosaurus rex skull (c) Mark Williamson / Science Photo LibraryDinosaur dynasty

    One group of dinosaurs survived and their descendants can be seen all around us today

  • Brown rat cluse upRise of the rodent

    Reports of giant, 'super rats' are filling the headlines. But why are we being overrun by rats?

  • Cuckoo portraitHoliday hotspot

    What makes the UK such an attractive destination for visiting wildlife?

There have been 75 solar eclipses and 167 major volcanic eruptions in my lifetime

Nicole Malliotakis on Twitter comments on the events that have happened since she was born by using our personalised Your Life on Earth interactive infographic.

Get Inspired


More Nature Activities >

Copyright © 2015 BBC. The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.