Handedness influences intermanual transfer in chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) but not rhesus monkeys (Macaca mulatta)

Exp Brain Res. 2015 Mar;233(3):829-37. doi: 10.1007/s00221-014-4158-8. Epub 2014 Dec 3.


Intermanual transfer refers to an effect, whereby training one hand to perform a motor task improves performance in the opposite untrained hand. We tested the hypothesis that handedness facilitates intermanual transfer in two nonhuman primate species: rhesus monkeys (N = 13) and chimpanzees (N = 52). Subjects were grouped into one of four conditions: (1) left-handers trained with the left (dominant) hand; (2) left-handers trained with the right (nondominant) hand; (3) right-handers trained with the left (nondominant) hand; and (4) right-handers trained with the right (dominant) hand. Intermanual transfer was measured using a task where subjects removed a Life Savers(®) candy (monkeys) or a washer (chimpanzees) from metal shapes. Transfer was measured with latency by comparing the average time taken to solve the task in the first session with the trained hand compared to the first session with the untrained hand. Hypotheses and predictions were derived from three models of transfer: access: benefit training with nondominant hand; proficiency: benefit training with dominant hand; and cross-activation: benefit irrespective of trained hand. Intermanual transfer (i.e., shorter latency in untrained hand) occurred regardless of whether monkeys trained with the dominant hand or nondominant hand, supporting the cross-activation model. However, transfer was only observed in chimpanzees that trained with the dominant hand. When handedness groups were examined separately, the transfer effect was only significant for right-handed chimpanzees, partially supporting the proficiency model. Findings may be related to neurophysiological differences in motor control as well as differences in handedness patterning between rhesus monkeys and chimpanzees.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Female
  • Functional Laterality / physiology*
  • Hand / physiology*
  • Macaca mulatta
  • Male
  • Motor Skills / physiology
  • Pan troglodytes
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology*