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Cognition. 2006 Oct;101(3):515-29. Epub 2006 Jan 31.

Eye movements of monkey observers viewing vocalizing conspecifics.

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Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics, Spemannstrasse 38, 72076 Tuebingen, Germany.


Primates, including humans, communicate using facial expressions, vocalizations and often a combination of the two modalities. For humans, such bimodal integration is best exemplified by speech-reading - humans readily use facial cues to enhance speech comprehension, particularly in noisy environments. Studies of the eye movement patterns of human speech-readers have revealed, unexpectedly, that they predominantly fixate on the eye region of the face as opposed to the mouth. Here, we tested the evolutionary basis for such a behavioral strategy by examining the eye movements of rhesus monkeys observers as they viewed vocalizing conspecifics. Under a variety of listening conditions, we found that rhesus monkeys predominantly focused on the eye region versus the mouth and that fixations on the mouth were tightly correlated with the onset of mouth movements. These eye movement patterns of rhesus monkeys are strikingly similar to those reported for humans observing the visual components of speech. The data therefore suggest that the sensorimotor strategies underlying bimodal speech perception may have a homologous counterpart in a closely related primate ancestor.

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