May 30, 2024

Social Attention in Nonhuman Primates: A Behavioral Review


Christine M. Johnson, M. Rosalyn Karin-D’Arcy


Abstract: Social attention involves attention directed toward other individuals, as well as the coordination of attention among individuals. This topic has been the focus of much recent research with nonhuman primates. In this review, we focus on the behavior of the participants in this research—both the animals and the humans—rather than on its cognitive implications. After briefly reviewing theoretical issues and the sensorimotor constraints on primate attention, we describe the ethological and experimental work that has been done. The former, involving observational studies in field and captive settings, focuses on the functions of social attention and on differences in traditional and contemporary micro-ethological techniques. The experimental work is organized in terms of the types of social relationships—solicitous, competitive, collaborative—that the various paradigms establish between subjects or between subject and experimenter. These include co-orientation (gaze-following) tasks, food-sharing tasks (such as conditional begging, donor choice, and object choice tasks), conspecific competition (such as occluder and informed leader tasks), and collaborative cue production (where subjects must cue an ignorant experimenter). In all of these tasks, we report the relative effectiveness of various attentional cues, including use of the hands (e.g., touching, pointing) and orientation of the body, head, and eyes. In our final discussion, we consider differences in focus in the observational vs experimental approaches (on negotiating social relationships vs access to food, respectively) and suggest ways in which the methods in these two arenas might be successfully integrated. We also discuss the advantages of considering the “ecology” of the laboratory setting and how recognizing the social and perceptual configurations established by different protocols can aid in their interpretation and design. Finally, we discuss the prevalence of individual differences in this research and how this underscores the importance of rearing history and other contextual factors in primate social attention.


Document Type: Research article

DOI: 10.1578/AM.32.4.2006.423

Page Numbers: 423 – 442

Info SKU: Vol__32__Iss__4__Johson_Karin-DArcy Category: