Project

Back to overview

Coordinating joint action in apes and human children

English title Coordinating joint action in apes and human children
Applicant Bangerter Adrian
Number 166331
Funding scheme Interdisciplinary projects
Research institution IPTO - Institut de Psychologie du Travail et des Organisations Université de Neuchâtel
Institution of higher education University of Neuchatel - NE
Main discipline Anthropology, Primatology
Start/End 01.09.2016 - 30.04.2020
Approved amount 657'564.00
Show all

All Disciplines (2)

Discipline
Anthropology, Primatology
Psychology

Keywords (8)

language evolution; great apes; children; social cognition; intentionality; interaction engine; joint action; cooperation

Lay Summary (French)

Lead
Selon une hypothèse importante, les humains modernes doivent leur succès biologique relatif à d’autres espèces à leur aptitude à la vie sociale et à la coopération. Récemment, Levinson (2008) a postulé l’existence d’un « moteur » de cette capacité coopérative, le « human interaction engine », un ensemble de capacités et de motivations qui produit les comportements sociaux typiques chez l’homme, tels que l’intersubjectivité, l’organisation de l’interaction par tours réciproques, l’utilisation de signaux multimodaux, et l’enchaînement séquentiel des actes individuels. Le but du projet est de documenter l’existence de précurseurs de ces capacités chez les grands singes (chimpanzés et bonobos) et de les comparer aux humains.
Lay summary

Contenu et objectifs du travail de recherche

Les travaux existants sur les capacités des grands singes à accomplir des activités conjointes sont controversés. D’un côté, les travaux observationnels suggèrent l’existence de cette capacité (p.ex. travaux sur la chasse en groupe), alors que des travaux expérimentaux aboutissent à des conclusions plus sceptiques. Nous étudions la question avec des méthodes dérivées de la micro-analyse des interactions sociales humaines et en observant des interactions spontanées afin de comparer directement les interactions chez les humains (enfants en bas âge) et les grands singes. Nous nous intéressons particulièrement aux signaux utilisés pour coordonner l’ouverture, le maintien, et la clôture de ces activités.

Contexte scientifique et social du projet de recherche

Pour comprendre la spécificité de l’espèce humaine et les origines de sa capacité linguistique, il est important d’étudier les différences entre les capacités interactionnelles des humains et leurs plus proches cousins, les grands singes.

Direct link to Lay Summary Last update: 29.03.2016

Responsible applicant and co-applicants

Employees

Associated projects

Number Title Start Funding scheme
185230 Mechanisms of bone fragility and response to RANK Ligand and Sclerostin inhibitors 01.04.2019 Project funding (Div. I-III)
166458 Social learning in primate communication 01.04.2016 Project funding (Div. I-III)

Abstract

One persuasive hypothesis for the biological success of modern humans is that early hominids have undergone a major evolutionary transition from an individualistic, competitive nature to a group-oriented, cooperative social nature, which prepared the ground for the advent of language. Here, we are concerned with the evolutionary origins of one manifestation of human cooperativeness, the ‘interaction engine’, a set of capacities and motivations that produce hallmark outputs of human social interaction, including reciprocal signalling of understanding that performed actions are part of a larger joint activity, turn-taking with reciprocal roles and precision timing of individual acts, multimodal signals, and structuring of individual acts into sequentially organised chains and macro-level phases.Previous research on the ability of great apes to engage in coordinated joint actions is controversial, with observational data on the one hand suggesting the existence of this ability and experimental data on the other hand painting a more skeptical picture. We advocate a closer analysis of natural behaviour using state-of-the art theoretical concepts and micro-analytical methods from the study of human social interaction to directly compare human and great ape social interaction. This project will thus investigate the capabilities for joint action in our closest relatives, the chimpanzees and bonobos, and compare them with human children. We will conduct observational studies on individuals engaged in naturally-occurring and ecologically relevant activities (apes: grooming, sex, chase-play; children: play and fight), focusing on the signals exchanged to coordinate entry, maintenance and exit from these joint actions. The interactions will be recorded while the focal individuals are in their own group (child-care facilities for human children), making the selection of co-operators for the joint activities an additional key component of the process and one that has been hardly studied in experimental settings. Observations of how human children spontaneously engage in joint activities like play or competitive activities like competing for toys will allow assessing how their way of entering, maintaining and exiting these activities develops and is affected by factors like the development of linguistic abilities, theory of mind and orientation towards social norms. This will also allow us to compare how the way great apes engage in joint actions resembles human cooperative joint actions (e.g., play) vs. competitive social interactions (e.g., fight). Our results will shed light on the cognitive and communicative processes underlying joint actions in great apes and enable us to make direct comparisons with humans. The human ‘interaction engine’ is thought to be a pivotal precursor for the evolution of language and other uniquely human characteristics, suggesting that results will lead to better understanding of how natural selection has shaped key aspects of human uniqueness from ancestral primate roots.
-