Public Release:  Chimps, like humans, focus on faces

BioMed Central

A chimp's attention is captured by faces more effectively than by bananas. A series of experiments described in BioMed Central's open access journal Frontiers in Zoology suggests that the apes are wired to respond to faces in a similar manner to humans.

Masaki Tomonaga and Tomoko Imura from the Primate Research Institute at Kyoto University, Japan, tested the effects of a series of different images on chimps' reaction times. Tomonaga said, "It is well known that faces are processed in a different manner from other types of complex visual stimuli. Recent studies of face perception in humans clarified that faces represent special stimuli with regard to visuospatial attention as well. That is, they are able to capture our attention. We've shown that chimps share this tendency to notice and pay attention to faces in preference to other objects."

The researchers gave chimps the option of playing a game for food. If the chimps chose to, they could approach a computer screen where an image would be displayed, followed by a target. If the chimps pressed the target, they would receive a reward. In one set of experiments, the image was displayed on one side of the screen followed by the target either on the same side or the previously blank side. Reaction times were shown to improve when the target appeared behind the image. The chimps were then presented with two images side by side, one of which was a chimpanzee face. When the target appeared behind the face, reaction times were better than when it appeared behind the other object - showing that attention had indeed been drawn to the face-side of the screen.

Chimpanzee faces were shown to attract attention more effectively than bananas and other objects such as flowers, houses or trains. This effect was reduced when the faces were inverted, suggesting that it is the specific configuration of an upright face that catches the eye. According to Tomonaga, "This attentional capture was also observed when upright human faces were presented, indicating that this effect is not limited to their own species".

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Notes to Editors

1. Faces capture the visuospatial attention of chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes): evidence from a cueing experiment
Masaki Tomonaga and Tomoko Imura
Frontiers in Zoology (in press)

During embargo, article available here: http://www.frontiersinzoology.com/imedia/4416516532551427_article.pdf?random=883587
After the embargo, article available at journal website: http://www.frontiersinzoology.com/

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2. Images of a chimp playing the game are available here:

http://www.biomedcentral.com/graphics/email/images/chimp1.jpg
http://www.biomedcentral.com/graphics/email/images/chimp2.jpg

3. Frontiers in Zoology is an open access, peer-reviewed, online journal publishing high quality research articles and reviews on all aspects of animal life. Frontiers in Zoology is the first open access journal focussing on zoology as a whole. It aims to represent and re-unite the various disciplines that look at animal life from different perspectives and at providing the basis for a comprehensive understanding of zoological phenomena on all levels of analysis.

4. BioMed Central (http://www.biomedcentral.com/) is an STM (Science, Technology and Medicine) publisher which has pioneered the open access publishing model. All peer-reviewed research articles published by BioMed Central are made immediately and freely accessible online, and are licensed to allow redistribution and reuse. BioMed Central is part of Springer Science+Business Media, a leading global publisher in the STM sector.

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