Monkeys recognize the faces of group mates in photographs

Jennifer J. Pokorny and Frans B. M. de Waal show that "Monkeys recognize the faces of group mates in photographs" (PNAS December 22, 2009 vol. 106 no. 51 21539-21543)



Subjects need to select the odd facial image from among four. On this trial, the odd image is a member of group 1 (Top Left) compared with three members of group 2. For monkeys living in group 1 this trial represents the In-group Odd condition, but for those living in group 2 it is the Out-group Odd condition.(©2009 by National Academy of Sciences)




Abstract: Nonhuman primates posses a highly developed capacity for face recognition, which resembles the human capacity both cognitively and neurologically. Face recognition is typically tested by having subjects compare facial images, whereas there has been virtually no attention to how they connect these images to reality. Can nonhuman primates recognize familiar individuals in photographs? Such facial identification was examined in brown or tufted capuchin monkeys (Cebus apella), a New World primate, by letting subjects categorize facial images of conspecifics as either belonging to the in-group or out-group. After training on an oddity task with four images on a touch screen, subjects correctly identified one in-group member as odd among three out-group members, and vice versa. They generalized this knowledge to both new images of the same individuals and images of juveniles never presented before, thus suggesting facial identification based on real-life experience with the depicted individuals. This ability was unexplained by potential color cues because the same results were obtained with grayscale images. These tests demonstrate that capuchin monkeys, like humans, recognize whom they see in a picture.




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