Discrimination of emotional facial expressions by tufted capuchin monkeys (Sapajus apella)

J Comp Psychol. 2017 Feb;131(1):40-49. doi: 10.1037/com0000055.


Tufted or brown capuchin monkeys (Sapajus apella) have been shown to recognize conspecific faces as well as categorize them according to group membership. Little is known, though, about their capacity to differentiate between emotionally charged facial expressions or whether facial expressions are processed as a collection of features or configurally (i.e., as a whole). In 3 experiments, we examined whether tufted capuchins (a) differentiate photographs of neutral faces from either affiliative or agonistic expressions, (b) use relevant facial features to make such choices or view the expression as a whole, and (c) demonstrate an inversion effect for facial expressions suggestive of configural processing. Using an oddity paradigm presented on a computer touchscreen, we collected data from 9 adult and subadult monkeys. Subjects discriminated between emotional and neutral expressions with an exceptionally high success rate, including differentiating open-mouth threats from neutral expressions even when the latter contained varying degrees of visible teeth and mouth opening. They also showed an inversion effect for facial expressions, results that may indicate that quickly recognizing expressions does not originate solely from feature-based processing but likely a combination of relational processes. (PsycINFO Database Record

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cebus / physiology*
  • Choice Behavior
  • Emotions*
  • Face / physiology*
  • Facial Expression*
  • Social Behavior