Even monkeys can figure out where others are looking

The ability to understand the direction of someone’s gaze is not a prerogative of human beings according to a new study carried out by researchers from the University of St Andrews, the National University of Singapore and the University of Leiden.

Understanding where others look was considered a feature found only in humans but researchers found that chimpanzees and bonobo can do the same. The wrong conviction, according to the press release on the website of the uniqueness of St Andrews, was born from the physical conformation of our eyes: the white part of the pupil, the sclera and the colored irises allow you to easily understand the direction of the look differently from the eyes of the monkeys.

The latter, in fact, often have a darker sclera and for this reason their gaze has always been considered “hidden” if not even cryptic.

Cat Hobaiter, primatologist and researcher at the University of St Andrews, explains the meaning of the study: “Understanding where someone looks seems to be the key to understanding what they are interested in, what they are thinking. For a long time researchers have suggested that the color of the eyes of monkeys means that they hide this information; we have shown that it is not so.”

The researcher noted that bonobo have a lighter sclera and darker irises, like humans, while chimpanzees have a very dark sclera and lighter irises. Both these models, after the researcher, show practically the same type of contrast that can be seen in the human eyes and therefore also these monkeys can understand where they are looking at the other individuals.


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