Human children learn to gesture at what they want, or are able to recognize the significance of someone else pointing at something from a young age. But most other animals haven’t displayed the capability for physically indicating an object of desire or focus, until now.
Human children learn to gesture at what they want, or are able to recognize the significance of someone else pointing at something from a young age.
But most other animals – dogs are a notable exception - haven’t displayed the capability for understanding when an object is pointed at, until now.
According to research from biologists at the University of St Andrews, elephants might be able to understand the nonverbal communication behind a human pointing at something.
By studying 11 captive elephants from a safari company in Zimbabwe, called Wild Horizons, the researchers found that the animals were able to figure out which bucket had fruit in it for them to eat, based on which one the researcher pointed to.
The results of the study showed that the elephants chose the correct bucket over 67 percent of the time compared to one year old human children given a similar test, who had an average accuracy rate of more than 72 percent.
While data from the study doesn’t prove conclusively that elephants understand what the gesture of a human pointing with their finger really means; it does address the topic of nonverbal communication abilities in the animal kingdom.