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Facial expressions modulate the ontogenetic trajectory of gaze-following among monkeys

Teufel, Christoph, Gutmann, Anke, Pirow, Ralph and Fischer, Julia 2010. Facial expressions modulate the ontogenetic trajectory of gaze-following among monkeys. Developmental Science 13 (6) , pp. 913-922. 10.1111/j.1467-7687.2010.00956.x

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Gaze-following, the tendency to direct one’s attention to locations looked at by others, is a crucial aspect of social cognition in human and nonhuman primates. Whereas the development of gaze-following has been intensely studied in human infants, its early ontogeny in nonhuman primates has received little attention. Combining longitudinal and cross-sectional observational data from Barbary macaques at ‘La Forêt des Singes’, we show here that gaze-following among conspecifics develops within the first year of life with a rapid increase between 5 and 6 months, reaching adult levels at 1 year. Sex, rank, and relatedness of the animal whose gaze the subject followed did not affect gaze-following rates. Interestingly, however, the behavior was enhanced in all age classes if a gaze-cue was accompanied by a facial expression. Furthermore, the effect of facial expressions had a modulatory influence on the ontogenetic trajectory of gaze-following, suggesting that it is of functional significance in the development of the behavior. Follow-up analyses revealed that one specific facial expression that is given in response to social interactions between third parties was particularly efficient in eliciting gaze-following responses, indicating the importance of cues that are able to guide the acquisition of social information. Taken together, these results suggest that the development and the operation of gaze-following are tuned to the social and physical characteristics of a species’ environment.

Item Type: Article
Date Type: Publication
Status: Published
Schools: Psychology
Publisher: Wiley-Blackwell
ISSN: 1363-755X
Last Modified: 04 Jun 2017 07:55

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