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Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience

Fall 1997, Vol. 9, No. 5, Pages 611-623
(doi: 10.1162/jocn.1997.9.5.611)
© 1997 by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology
How Do Monkeys Look at Faces?
Article PDF (2.41 MB)

Facial displays are an important form of social communication in nonhuman primates. Clues to the information conveyed by faces are the temporal and spatial characteristics of ocular viewing patterns to facial images. The present study compares viewing patterns of four rhesus monkeys (Macaca mulatta) to a set of 1- and 3-sec video segments of conspecific facial displays, which included open-mouth threat, lip-smack, yawn, fear-grimace, and neutral profile. Both static and dynamic video images were used. Static human faces displaying open-mouth threat, smile, and neutral gestures were also presented. Eye position was recorded with a surgically implanted eye-coil. The relative perceptual salience of the eyes, the midface, and the mouth across different expressive gestures was determined by analyzing the number of eye movements associated with each feature during static and dynamic presentations. The results indicate that motion does not significantly affect the viewing patterns to expressive facial displays, and when given a choice, monkeys spend a relatively large amount of time inspecting the face, especially the eyes, as opposed to areas surrounding the face. The expressive nature of the facial display also affected viewing patterns in that threatening and fear-related displays evoked a pattern of viewing that differed from that recorded during the presentation of submissive-related facial displays. From these results we conclude that (1) the most important determinant of the visual inspection patterns of faces is the constellation of physiognomic features and their configuration, but not facial motion, (2) the eyes are generally the most salient facial feature, and (3) the agonistic or affiliative dimension of an expressive facial display can be delineated on the basis of viewing patterns.