Campus News

Primate Behavioral Ecology Lab director discusses gorilla chest-beating

Roberta Salmi, an associate professor in the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences’ psychology department, was recently quoted in a National Geographic article about gorilla chest-beating.

Although it is seen often in the movies, actual evidence for why male gorillas sometimes beat their chests has been rare. Past studies showed a gorilla’s body size is associated with dominance and reproductive success, but the concept that chest-beating also communicates some of that information was just speculative, according to the new study.

“We thought and suspected, but there was no actual data to support this claim,” Salmi said. “I was happy to finally see those results.”

Although Salmi wasn’t associated with this study, she has also studied chest-beating in closely related western lowland gorillas. This species also performs a hand-clapping behavior as a way to alert others to potential danger that has so far not been observed in mountain gorillas.

With the new study’s results, the next step is to see how other gorillas use the information from chest-beating sounds, Salmi said.

“It will be very interesting to see how hearing chest beats in their environments might affect their movements and decision-making as to which areas of their home range to use,” she said.