We might have evolved a long way from the communication skills of fish, but it seems it is fish we should thank for the effectiveness of using hand gestures while talking.
Andrew Bass, professor of neurobiology and behavior at Cornell University in Ithaca, NY, has done research offering "evidence that the evolutionary origins of the link between speech and gesturing can be traced to a developmental compartment in the caudal hindbrain of fish."
The neurobiologist found that fish brains have a compartment containing both the neural system that allows them to "vocalize" and the system that enables them to "gesture" - move their pectoral fins. We humans also use the same part of our brains for both talking and hand gesturing, he says.
Prof. Andrew Bass is Cornell University's associate vice provost for research and lists "animal communication - especially production and encoding of vocal signals - and evolution and sexual differentiation of brain and behavior" as his particular research interests. He recently presented his work at the Society for Experimental Biology's July meeting in Valencia, Spain.
Mapping brain-muscle connections
Freshly hatched larval midshipman fish. Prof. Bass studied their early brain development. Photo credit: Margaret Marchaterre/Cornell University
Prof. Bass told Medical News Today: "Using methods to understand how the brain is connected to different muscle groups, we mapped the early development of two systems in the brain that control muscles that allow fish to vocalize and to move their pectoral fins."
He knew that the early development of the brain of vertebrates (fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals) was made up of compartments or segments. "A major question before us," he said, was to find out their "functional significance." He added: "Might these compartments in the adult brain represent behavioral modules, for example, vocalization and movement of pectoral appendages - pectoral fins in fish, forelimbs in other animals, including ourselves?"
Prof. Bass told MNT:
"Using methods to understand how the brain is connected to different muscle groups, we mapped the early development of two systems in the brain that control muscles that allow fish to vocalize and to move their pectoral fins. We found that these systems arise from the same compartment."
The researchers say there is plenty of evidence to show a behavioral link in humans between speech and gesturing, but that Prof. Bass's work "provides rare proof of a neural connection between the two types of communication." He added in a Cornell statement:
"Humans who are blind move their hands when they are speaking.
This reflects the essence of the deep-rooted coupling of these two communication systems."
We owe fish a high-five of thanks.