Chimpanzees prefer faces to food

Aug 06, 2009
By staff

Have you ever had one of those moments at the zoo when, gazing through the glass at the primate exhibit, you looked a chimpanzee right in the eyes and swore you felt a real connection? You might not be projecting human emotion. A recent study conducted at the Primate Research Institute at Japan's Kyoto University shows that chimps--like humans--place special value on faces.

In the experiment, chimpanzees were given the chance to play a game that would reward them with food when they touched a target on a computer screen. This target was then made to appear behind an image on one side of a split screen opposite a blank side. Eventually two images appeared on the split screen, one being the face of a chimp. Reaction times were improved when the target appeared behind the chimp face, indicating that the test subjects' attention was already drawn to that image. Chimps' attention was even more focused on faces than on images of a banana.

Primate Research Institute's Masaki Tomonaga says it is well understood that humans process faces much differently than other visuals and their research has confirmed that chimpanzees also exhibit this predilection. This was also the case when human faces were displayed as part of the study.

So exchange glances with a chimp--the enjoyment will be mutual.