Male long-tailed macaques (Macaca fascicularis) understand the target of facial threat.

Anne Overduin - de Vries, Frederique Bakker, B.M. Spruijt, E.H.M. Sterck*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


The cognitive demands of group living have resulted in the development of social competences in a wide range of animal species. Primates are well aware of the complex social structure within their group and infer information about social status by observing interactions of others. A capacity used to infer this information, Visual Perspective Taking (VPT), is present in apes and in monkeys. However, it is unclear whether monkeys really understand that another individual is looking at a specific target. We investigated whether monkeys understand the target of attention of conspecifics using a new paradigm, based on expectancy violation. Subjects were exposed to pictures of scenes involving group members. These pictures either represented congruent (agonistic signals consistent with the dominance hierarchy) or incongruent (signals contradict the dominance hierarchy) social situations. The only difference between scenes concerned the looking direction, that is, the target of attention, and facial expression of the central monkey in the picture. Female subjects did not differ in their looking times to incongruent and congruent scenes, but results may be confounded by their longer looking times at scenes involving kin than non-kin. Male subjects looked significantly longer at incongruent than congruent scenes, suggesting that they understand the target of attention of other individuals. Alternative explanations involving simpler cognitive capacities were excluded. This implies that monkey species share social cognitive capacities underlying VPT with apes and humans.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)720-730
Number of pages11
JournalAmerican Journal of Primatology
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - 2016


  • attention
  • gaze following
  • social cognition
  • primate
  • visual perspective taking


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