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Visual Search for Human Gaze Direction by a Chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes)

Masaki Tomonaga & Tomoko Imura

Background: Humans detect faces with direct gazes among those with averted gazes more efficiently than they detect faces with averted gazes among those with direct gazes. We examined whether this "stare-in-the-crowd" effect occurs in chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes), whose eye morphology differs from that of humans (i.e., low-contrast eyes, dark sclera). Methodology/Principal Findings: An adult female chimpanzee was trained to search for an odd-item target (front view of a human face) among distractors that differed from the target only with respect to the direction of the eye gaze. During visualsearch testing, she performed more efficiently when the target was a direct-gaze face than when it was an averted-gaze face. This direct-gaze superiority was maintained when the faces were inverted and when parts of the face were scrambled. Subsequent tests revealed that gaze perception in the chimpanzee was controlled by the contrast between iris and sclera, as in humans, but that the chimpanzee attended only to the position of the iris in the eye, irrespective of head direction. Conclusion/Significance: These results suggest that the chimpanzee can discriminate among human gaze directions and are more sensitive to direct gazes. However, limitations in the perception of human gaze by the chimpanzee are suggested by her inability to completely transfer her performance to faces showing a three-quarter view.

PLoS ONE 5(2): e9131. doi:10.1371/ journal.pone.0009131


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