Sunday, 15 May 2016

Do you see what I see? Study shows development of gaze following in monkeys is similar to humans

Date: May 11, 2016
Source: Harvard University

Walking through Harvard Yard, you see it every day -- one person stops to look up at a tree, perhaps trying to catch a glimpse of hawks that call the area home -- and soon most passers-by are stopping to look in the same direction.

It's a phenomenon known as "gaze following" -- and although it's been demonstrated in dozens of species, researchers have theorized that it may develop in a unique way in humans, because it plays a critical role in learning and socialization.

A new study, however, shows that gaze following in monkeys develops in a way that's nearly identical to humans, suggesting that the behavior has deep evolutionary roots. The study is described in a May 11 paper published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

"Even though it seems like it's a very simple thing, this is a foundational social and cognitive skill that humans have. And there has been little research on how this skill develops in other species," said Alexandra Rosati, Assistant Professor of Human Evolutionary Biology and the first author of the study. "This is the largest study ever looking at gaze following in monkeys. We followed how this skill developed through their whole lifespan and examined the psychological mechanisms they were using to exhibit this behavior."

By studying more than 480 monkeys ranging from two weeks to 28 years old, Rosati and colleagues from Yale University and the University of Pennsylvania found that gaze following in macaques first appears a few months after birth, peaks among juveniles and then slowly declines into old age. The study also revealed -- just as in humans -- that female monkeys were more sensitive to gaze cues than males.

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