Social interactions through the eyes of macaques and humans

McFarland, Richard, Roebuck, Hettie, Yan, Yin , Majolo, Bonaventura, Li, Wu and Guo, Kun (2013) Social interactions through the eyes of macaques and humans. PLoS ONE, 8 (2). e56437. ISSN 1932-6203

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Group-living primates frequently interact with each other to maintain social bonds as well as to compete for valuable resources. Observing such social interactions between group members provides individuals with essential information (e.g. on the fighting ability or altruistic attitude of group companions) to guide their social tactics and choice of social partners. This process requires individuals to selectively attend to the most informative content within a social scene. It is unclear how non-human primates allocate attention to social interactions in different contexts, and whether they share similar patterns of social attention to humans. Here we compared the gaze behaviour of rhesus macaques and humans when free-viewing the same set of naturalistic images. The images contained positive or negative social interactions between two conspecifics of different phylogenetic distance from the observer; i.e. affiliation or aggression exchanged by two humans, rhesus macaques, Barbary macaques, baboons or lions. Monkeys directed a variable amount of gaze at the two conspecific individuals in the images according to their roles in the interaction (i.e. giver or receiver of affiliation/aggression). Their gaze distribution to non-conspecific individuals was systematically varied according to the viewed species and the nature of interactions, suggesting a contribution of both prior experience and innate bias in guiding social attention. Furthermore, the monkeys’ gaze behavior was qualitatively similar to that of humans, especially when viewing negative interactions. Detailed analysis revealed that both species directed more gaze at the face than the body region when inspecting individuals, and attended more to the body region in negative than in positive social interactions. Our study suggests that monkeys and humans share a similar pattern of role-sensitive, species- and context-dependent social attention, implying a homologous cognitive mechanism of social attention between rhesus macaques and humans.

Keywords:social attention, social interaction, fixation, monkey, human
Subjects:C Biological Sciences > C850 Cognitive Psychology
C Biological Sciences > C830 Experimental Psychology
Divisions:College of Social Science > School of Psychology
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ID Code:7547
Deposited On:16 Feb 2013 16:19

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