A new study by researchers from the University of St Andrews and the Central European University in Vienna has revealed that chimpanzees share a human tendency to inadvertently synchronize their steps when walking side by side.
While it is already known that chimpanzees can coordinate when working toward a goal, such as pulling a string to release food, much less is known about their tendency to coordinate spontaneously.
The study, led by Dr. Manon Schweinfurth, lecturer at the School of Psychology and Neuroscience in St Andrews and published in the journal Current Biology today (Thurs 20 October), the walking behavior of chimpanzees recorded at the Chimfunshi Wildlife Orphanage Trust, a sanctuary in Zambia, under various conditions. The chimpanzees were observed walking alone or walking alongside others.
Researchers noted that chimpanzees exhibit inadvertent synchronization in their steps when walking side by side, suggesting that humans’ strong tendency to coordinate simple actions is shared with our closest relative primates, and could therefore be an ancestral trait. .
dr. Schweinfurth said: “People intentionally plan and coordinate actions with others during sports games, group dances, music ensembles or military actions. But it is also part of our daily lives – such as carrying objects together or dressing a child. It has been suggested that collective actions are crucial to our success as a species, because together we can achieve much more than alone, in fact we can do nothing about it and coordinate actions even when it is not necessary, such as falling into the same rhythm with someone walking next to us .”
In contrast, one of our closest living relatives, the chimpanzee, does not seem to have the same preference for rather complex joint actions. But little is known about simpler forms of joint action, such as the tendency to fall into inter-individual synchrony. Chimpanzees are particularly interesting here , because they are a good model for our last common ancestor with other African great apes.”
“We investigated whether chimpanzees spontaneously coordinate their actions in a semi-natural environment when coordination was not planned or the goal of an interaction, that is, when they walked close to each other. For this, we recorded their undisturbed walking behavior under different conditions. We found that chimpanzees exhibit inadvertent synchronization in their steps when walking next to conspecifics.”
The study included both male and female chimpanzees of different ages, some related and some unrelated. When the chimpanzees walked together, a step of one walker was followed in less than 0.5 second by the same respective foot of the other walker in 79% of the cases.
“This study provides evidence that chimpanzees temporarily synchronize their body movements with the movements of their species. This interpersonal coordination of movements is often referred to as entrainment and is based on perception-action links being linked. Understanding the mechanisms humans share with other species can help us understand the evolutionary origin of more advanced forms of concerted action.”
“This study provides evidence that this simple form of coordination is shared between humans and their closest relatives. Thus, the difference in more complex forms of coordination between humans and chimpanzees is likely due to more sophisticated underlying mechanisms. Future studies are needed to identify That.”