A mother gorilla’s variable use of touch to guide her infant
This chapter examines how gestures of the great apes are created from instrumental actions. Ape gestures are generally believed to form through phylogenetic or ontogenetic ritualization, or – at least in humans – “iconic” gestures are created spontaneously during online interaction. These alternatives are evaluated with respect to data on the tactile<i> pushes</i> used by a mother gorilla to direct her infant around their enclosure. Analysis shows that the<i> pushes</i> exhibit variability in form and force in ways that are tuned to the present physical and social context, indicating the underlying activation of afforded instrumental actions and thus iconic processes in the creation of these gestures, opposed to ritualization. We discuss how this variability reveals continuity between gesture and action that is compatible with recent simulation-based accounts of iconic gesture.