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An analysis of gaze following to a hidden location in long-tailed macaques (Macaca fascicularis)

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Gaze following, the ability to track the direction of another’s gaze, is thought to be an important component of human and animal social cognition. Several animal species attend to the gaze direction of others, but in Old World monkeys it remains unclear whether this behaviour is based on a simple co-orientation mechanism or on a more sophisticated perception of the other’s visual behaviour. The capacity to follow another’s gaze to a location hidden behind a physical obstacle has been argued to indicate refined skills in determining the exact direction of the other’s gaze (‘geometrical gaze following’) and a representation of space outside one’s own visual field. Human infants, great apes, new world monkeys, wolves (Canis lupus) and ravens (Corvus corax) have been shown to have this capacity. We investigated whether long-tailed macaques (Macaca fascicularis), an Old World monkey, follow conspecific gaze, indicated by head direction and visual orientation, to a hidden location. When a conspecific demonstrator gazed at a mirror hidden behind a barrier, subjects relocated to a position where they could see the mirror location and showed a trend, not statistically significant, to direct more focussed looks behind the barrier than in a situation where there was no conspicuous gaze cue by the demonstrator. The strength of this reaction was greatest in those individuals that looked most frequently at the demonstrator. Thus, long-tailed macaques may follow gaze to a hidden location, suggesting that they possess geometrical gaze following and represent space outside their own visual field. In addition, this capacity may be widespread across the animal kingdom.

Affiliations: 1: aBehavioural Biology, Department of Biology and Helmholtz Institute, Utrecht University, Utrecht, The Netherlands


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