• auditory communication;
  • visual communication;
  • orangutans;
  • western lowland gorillas;
  • attentional status


In this study we investigated the communicative abilities of 10 orangutans (Pongo pygmaeus) and seven western lowland gorillas (Gorilla gorilla gorilla), and particularly focused on their sensitivity to the attentional state of a human experimenter when choosing from a repertoire of both auditory and visual communication strategies. In experiment 1 a banana was placed in front of the subject's cage and a human experimenter was either present or absent. The subject's behavior was recorded for 60 sec. Both gorillas and orangutans gestured (t(16)=−3.58, P<.005) and vocalized (t(16)=−2.47, P<.05) more when the experimenter was present. In experiment 2 a human experimenter held a banana in front of the subject's cage and was oriented either toward or away from the subject. Again the subject's behavior was recorded for 60 sec. In this experiment both gorillas and orangutans gestured significantly more frequently (t(16)=3.40, P<.005) when the experimenter was oriented toward them. In addition, gorillas and orangutans used other forms of visual communication signals, such as lip pout (t(16)=3.66, P<.005), barter/trade (t(16)=2.31, P<.05), and body present (t(16)=2.31, P<.05) significantly more when an experimenter was facing them. The overall results indicate that both gorillas and orangutans are sensitive to the attentional state of a human experimenter and use appropriate communicative signals to gain that individual's attention. These results are also similar to previous findings on communicative behaviors in chimpanzees. Am. J. Primatol. 68:978–992, 2006. © 2006 Wiley-Liss, Inc.