Featured research (3)
Eye gaze is an important source of information for animals, implicated in communication, cooperation, hunting and antipredator behaviour. Gaze perception and its cognitive underpinnings are much studied in primates, but the specific features that are used to estimate gaze can be difficult to isolate behaviourally. We photographed 13 laboratory-housed tufted capuchin monkeys ( Sapajus [Cebus] apella ) to quantify chromatic and achromatic contrasts between their iris, pupil, sclera and skin. We used colour vision models to quantify the degree to which capuchin eye gaze is discriminable to capuchins, their predators and their prey. We found that capuchins, regardless of their colour vision phenotype, as well as their predators, were capable of effectively discriminating capuchin gaze across ecologically relevant distances. Their prey, in contrast, were not capable of discriminating capuchin gaze, even under relatively ideal conditions. These results suggest that specific features of primate eyes can influence gaze perception, both within and across species.
Chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes) sclera appear much darker than the white sclera of human eyes, to such a degree that the direction of chimpanzee gaze may be concealed from conspecifics. Recent debate surrounding this topic has produced mixed results, with some evidence suggesting that (1) primate gaze is indeed concealed from their conspecifics, and (2) gaze colouration is among the suite of traits that distinguish uniquely social and cooperative humans from other primates (the cooperative eye hypothesis). Using a visual modelling approach that properly accounts for specific-specific vision, we reexamined this topic to estimate the extent to which chimpanzee eye coloration is discriminable. We photographed the faces of captive chimpanzees and quantified the discriminability of their pupil, iris, sclera, and surrounding skin. We considered biases of cameras, lighting conditions, and commercial photography software along with primate visual acuity, colour sensitivity, and discrimination ability. Our visual modeling of chimpanzee eye coloration suggests that chimpanzee gaze is visible to conspecifics at a range of distances (within approximately 10 m) appropriate for many species-typical behaviours. We also found that chimpanzee gaze is discriminable to the visual system of primates that chimpanzees prey upon, Colobus monkeys. Chimpanzee sclera colour does not effectively conceal gaze, and we discuss this result with regard to the cooperative eye hypothesis, the evolution of primate eye colouration, and methodological best practices for future primate visual ecology research.
Gaze perception is an essential behavior that allows individuals to determine where others are directing their attention but we know relatively little about the ways in which eye morphology influences it. We therefore tested whether eyes with conspicuous morphology have evolved to facilitate gaze perception. During a visual search task, we recorded the eye movements of human participants (Homo sapiens) as they searched for faces with directed gaze within arrays of faces with averted gaze or the reverse; the faces were large and upright, small and upright, or large and inverted. The faces had sclera that were conspicuous (white or colored lighter than the iris color) or inconspicuous (colored the same or darker than the iris color). We found that participants were fastest and most accurate in finding the faces with conspicuous sclera versus inconspicuous sclera. Our results demonstrate that eyes with conspicuous morphology facilitate gaze perception in humans.