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Handedness for tool use in captive chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes): sex differences, performance, heritability and comparison to the wild

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There is continued debate over the factors influencing handedness in captive and wild primates, notably chimpanzees. Previous studies in wild chimpanzees have revealed population-level left-handedness for termite fishing. Here we examined hand preferences and performance on a tool use task designed to simulate termite fishing in a sample of 190 captive chimpanzees to evaluate whether patterns of hand use in captive chimpanzees differed from those observed for wild apes. No population-level handedness was found for this task; however, significant sex differences in preference and performance were found, with males showing greater left-handedness and poorer performance compared to females. We also found that the hand preferences of offspring were significantly positively correlated with the hand preferences of their mothers. Lastly, older females performed more slowly on the task compared to younger individuals. The overall results neither confirm nor reject previous hypotheses claiming that raising chimpanzees in captivity induces right-handedness, but rather suggest that other factors may account for differences in hand preferences for tool use seen in wild and captive chimpanzees.

Affiliations: 1: Division of Psychobiology, Yerkes National Primate Research Center, 954 Gatewood Road, Atlanta, GA 30322, USA, Department of Psychology, Agnes Scott College, Decatur, GA 30030, USA;, Email:; 2: Division of Psychobiology, Yerkes National Primate Research Center, 954 Gatewood Road, Atlanta, GA 30322, USA; 3: Department of Veterinary Sciences, The University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center, Bastrop, TX 78602, USA


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