How much nonhuman animals understand about seeing has been the focus of comparative cognition research for decades. Many social primates (and other species) are sensitive to cues about what others can and cannot see. Whether this sensitivity evolved in primates through shared descent or convergent evolution remains unclear. The current study tested gibbons-the apes that are least studied yet most distantly related to humans and one of the less social primates-in two food-competition tasks. Specifically, we presented eastern hoolock gibbons, Hoolock leuconedys, and silvery gibbons, Hylobates moloch, with a choice between a contested piece of food visible to both themselves and a human competitor and an uncontested piece visible only to themselves. Subjects successfully stole the uncontested food when the competitor turned away his body (N = 10, experiment 1) and his head (N = 9, experiment 2). However, when the head of the experimenter was oriented towards the contested piece of food, whether the competitor opened or closed his eyes made no difference. Subjects' sensitivity to body- and head-orientation cues was comparable to that of chimpanzees, rhesus macaques, and ring-tailed lemurs-species living in much larger groups than gibbons. These findings support the continuity hypothesis that sensitivity to body- and head-orientation cues is a product of shared descent among primates.
Keywords: Attention; Gibbon; Hylobatidae; Perspective taking; Social cognition; Social intelligence hypothesis.