Emotionality and intentionality in bonobo playful communication

Great apes show very complex systems for communicating emotions and intentions. Whereas gestures are intentional signals, facial expressions can disclose both emotions and intentions. The playful context is a good field to explore the possible dichotomy between intentionally and emotionally driven signals as it has been suggested that one of its functions is to learn producing and decoding communicative patterns. To understand how signals are produced during play and how they are modified in the course of ontogeny, we investigated the use of playful facial expressions and gestures in bonobos (Pan paniscus), a tolerant species showing a high propensity to play even as adults. Our results showed that the use of play faces and gestures is strongly influenced by the characteristics of the play session. Both play faces and gestures were more often performed when social play involved physical contact and when the receiver was visually attending, thus suggesting that both signals can be strategically employed when communicating becomes more urgent. Compared to play faces, gestures were more frequent during dyadic than polyadic sessions, when a unique receiver was involved. Being gestures not context specific, they are probably used more selectively by the sender. On the contrary, play faces are context specific and transmit an unequivocal positive message that cannot be misconceived. These features legitimize a broad use of playful facial expressions, independently of the number of playmates. The similarities and differences in the production of these signals are probably linked to the different degree of emotionality and intentionality characterizing them. © 2014, Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg.

Great apes show very complex systems for communicating emotions and intentions. Whereas gestures are intentional signals, facial expressions can disclose both emotions and intentions. The playful context is a good field to explore the possible dichotomy between intentionally and emotionally driven signals as it has been suggested that one of its functions is to learn producing and decoding communicative patterns. To understand how signals are produced during play and how they are modified in the course of ontogeny, we investigated the use of playful facial expressions and gestures in bonobos (Pan paniscus), a tolerant species showing a high propensity to play even as adults. Our results showed that the use of play faces and gestures is strongly influenced by the characteristics of the play session. Both play faces and gestures were more often performed when social play involved physical contact and when the receiver was visually attending, thus suggesting that both signals can be strategically employed when communicating becomes more urgent. Compared to play faces, gestures were more frequent during dyadic than polyadic sessions, when a unique receiver was involved. Being gestures not context specific, they are probably used more selectively by the sender. On the contrary, play faces are context specific and transmit an unequivocal positive message that cannot be misconceived. These features legitimize a broad use of playful facial expressions, independently of the number of playmates. The similarities and differences in the production of these signals are probably linked to the different degree of emotionality and intentionality characterizing them. © 2014, Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg.

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