Fine-tuning of social play in juvenile lowland gorillas (Gorilla gorilla gorilla)

Social play, which involves cooperation, communication, and learning, may represent a suitable field for the investigation of cognitive ability in a given species. We collected data on a captive group of gorillas in order to evaluate the potential cognitive skill of juveniles in fine-tuning play behavior. This study revealed that juvenile gorillas are able to “place ” the play session in a proper spatial/temporal context, thus evaluating a complex net of factors (e.g., play partner, play roughness, group activity, space availability). When animals play fight, they use patterns of agonistic functional contexts. Since these actions are not intrinsically different from their “serious ” context, it may be hard to distinguish them. One of the most important function of play in the ontogeny of primate social cognition may be to recognize stimuli, which may indicate the intentions of conspecifics. Accordingly, we found that juvenile gorillas are able to use play signals appropriately when a clear statement of purpose is necessary (i.e., during male-male competitive play sessions and when the escape opportunities are limited). The ability to interpret such ambiguous features of social signaling could represent a central issue in the evolution of behavioral flexibility and intelligence in primates. © 2007 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

Social play, which involves cooperation, communication, and learning, may represent a suitable field for the investigation of cognitive ability in a given species. We collected data on a captive group of gorillas in order to evaluate the potential cognitive skill of juveniles in fine-tuning play behavior. This study revealed that juvenile gorillas are able to “place ” the play session in a proper spatial/temporal context, thus evaluating a complex net of factors (e.g., play partner, play roughness, group activity, space availability). When animals play fight, they use patterns of agonistic functional contexts. Since these actions are not intrinsically different from their “serious ” context, it may be hard to distinguish them. One of the most important function of play in the ontogeny of primate social cognition may be to recognize stimuli, which may indicate the intentions of conspecifics. Accordingly, we found that juvenile gorillas are able to use play signals appropriately when a clear statement of purpose is necessary (i.e., during male-male competitive play sessions and when the escape opportunities are limited). The ability to interpret such ambiguous features of social signaling could represent a central issue in the evolution of behavioral flexibility and intelligence in primates. © 2007 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

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