Interpretation of human pointing by African elephants : generalisation and rationality
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Factors influencing the abilities of different animals to use cooperative social cues from humans are still unclear, in spite of long-standing interest in the topic. One of the few species that have been found successful at using human pointing is the African elephant (Loxodonta africana); despite few opportunities for learning about pointing, elephants follow a pointing gesture in an object-choice task, even when the pointing signal and experimenter’s body position are in conflict, and when the gesture itself is visually subtle. Here, we show that the success of captive African elephants at using human pointing is not restricted to situations where the pointing signal is sustained until the time of choice: elephants followed human pointing even when the pointing gesture was withdrawn before they had responded to it. Furthermore, elephants rapidly generalised their response to a type of social cue they were unlikely to have seen before: pointing with the foot. However, unlike young children, they showed no sign of evaluating the ‘rationality’ of this novel pointing gesture according to its visual context: that is, whether the experimenter’s hands were occupied or not.
Smet , A F & Byrne , R W 2014 , ' Interpretation of human pointing by African elephants : generalisation and rationality ' Animal Cognition , vol 17 , no. 6 . DOI: 10.1007/s10071-014-0772-x
© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2014. This work is made available online in accordance with the publisher’s policies. This is the author created, accepted version manuscript following peer review and may differ slightly from the final published version. The final publication is available at Springer via http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s10071-014-0772-x
This research was carried out with funding from a departmental studentship from the School of Psychology and Neuroscience of the University of St Andrews, awarded to AFS.
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