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Division of labor in hand usage in free-ranging bonnet macaques, Macaca radiata



Primates exhibit laterality in hand usage either in terms of (a) hand with which an individual solves a task or while solving a task that requires both hands, executes the most complex action, that is, “hand preference,” or (b) hand with which an individual executes actions most efficiently, that is, “hand performance.” Observations from previous studies indicate that laterality in hand usage might reflect specialization of the two hands for accomplishing tasks that require maneuvering dexterity or physical strength. However, no existing study has investigated handedness with regard to this possibility. In this study, we examined laterality in hand usage in urban free-ranging bonnet macaques, Macaca radiata with regard to the above possibility. While solving four distinct food extraction tasks which varied in the number of steps involved in the food extraction process and the dexterity required in executing the individual steps, the macaques consistently used one hand for extracting food (i.e., task requiring maneuvering dexterity)—the “maneuvering” hand, and the other hand for supporting the body (i.e., task requiring physical strength)—the “supporting” hand. Analogously, the macaques used the maneuvering hand for the spontaneous routine activities that involved maneuvering in three-dimensional space, such as grooming, and hitting an opponent during an agonistic interaction, and the supporting hand for those that required physical strength, such as pulling the body up while climbing. Moreover, while solving a task that ergonomically forced the usage of a particular hand, the macaques extracted food faster with the maneuvering hand as compared to the supporting hand, demonstrating the higher maneuvering dexterity of the maneuvering hand. As opposed to the conventional ideas of handedness in non-human primates, these observations demonstrate division of labor between the two hands marked by their consistent usage across spontaneous and experimental tasks requiring maneuvering in three-dimensional space or those requiring physical strength. Am. J. Primatol. 76:576–585, 2014. © 2013 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.