Sex and rank affect how infant rhesus macaques look at faces

Dev Psychobiol. 2018 Mar;60(2):187-193. doi: 10.1002/dev.21579. Epub 2017 Nov 22.


We investigated how differences in infant sex and mothers' dominance status affect infant rhesus macaques' (Macaca mulatta) interest in visually exploring emotional facial expressions. Thirty-eight infants were presented with animated avatars of macaque facial expressions during the first month of life. Sons of high-ranking mothers looked more at faces, especially the eye region, than sons of low-ranking mothers, but no difference in looking duration was found for daughters. Males looked significantly more at eyes than females, but this effect was reversed in infants who were reared without mothers in a primate nursery facility. In addition, in mother-infant interactions, mothers of sons were more likely to gaze at their infant's face compared to mothers of daughters. Combined with previous research indicating that rhesus macaque mothers interact differently with infants based on their own rank and infant's sex, these results support the view that social experiences shape early face preferences in rhesus macaques.

Keywords: dominance rank; early experience; eyetracking; rhesus macaque; sex difference; visual social attention.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Intramural

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Behavior, Animal / physiology*
  • Facial Recognition / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Macaca mulatta / physiology*
  • Male
  • Mothers
  • Sex Factors
  • Social Dominance*
  • Social Perception*