Iconic Gestures

    An iconic gesture is one that depicts a physical aspect of its referent. Iconic gestures, for the zoo gorillas, involve the ability to both mentally represent and physically depict action detached from the self in time and place; i.e. past or future events, or action planned, intended, or desired for oneself or from others. Iconic gestures may come from both the TACTILE and VISUAL receptive categories. Thus, examples may be gestures you have already seen on other pages:

Video examples:

armswing under, down, head nod, tactile gestures.

See for a detailed analysis:

Tanner, Joanne E. & Byrne, Richard W. (1996). Representation of action through iconic gesture in a captive lowland gorilla. Current Anthropology, 37(1), 162-173.

Tanner, Joanne E. & Byrne, Richard W. (1999). The development of spontaneous gestural communication in a group of zoo-living lowland gorillas. In: The Mentalities of Gorillas and Orangutans: Comparative Perspectives, pp. 211-239. Ed. Parker, S.T., Mitchell, R.W., and Miles, H. Lyn. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK.


- Dr. Joanne Tanner

- Charles Ernest




SF Zoo Gorillas


Gorilla Gestures Intro


- Why Create Gestures

- Tactile

- Visual

- Audible

- Iconic

- Imitation

- Phrases/Exchanges

- Other Zoos

- Gesture Table

- Triadic Play Intro

- Triadic Play Research


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