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J Comp Psychol. 2012 Aug;126(3):318-23. doi: 10.1037/a0025081. Epub 2011 Aug 15.

Evidence for kinship information contained in the rhesus macaque (Macaca mulatta) face.

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  • 1Laboratory of Comparative Ethology, Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, NIH Animal Center, PO Box 529, Poolesville, MD 20873, USA. bowersb2@mail.nih.gov


The ability to recognize kin is an important social skill for primates. Humans are adept at using facial similarity to recognize likely kin, and there is evidence that nonhuman primates are also able to use facial similarity to make judgments about kinship. However, if and how nonhuman primate faces actually contain kinship information remains unclear. To test whether there is objectively measurable facial similarity in related nonhuman primates, we compared facial measurements from related (paternal half-sisters) and unrelated adult female rhesus macaques (Macaca mulatta). Facial measurements were first summarized into 5 factors using a principal component analysis. Differences in these factors between the faces of related macaques were compared with differences between the faces of random unrelated macaques and of age-matched unrelated macaques. The difference in facial measurements between related macaques was significantly smaller than the difference in facial measurements of either group of unrelated macaques, constituting an objective measure of facial similarity in macaque kin. These results indicate that kinship information is contained in the rhesus macaque face and suggest that nonhuman primates may rely in part on facial similarity to distinguish kin.

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