Research highlight

Understanding actions through a chimpanzee’s eyes

Nature Communications

February 22, 2012

Chimpanzees anticipate actions by others in the same way as human adults, but humans refer to faces more than chimpanzees do finds a study published in Nature Communications this week. Humans understand actions not simply as physical movements, but also by making inferences about the person's intentions, interpreting the action as goal-directed. Humans have a predisposition to observe goal-directed actions by incorporating information from the actor, which is not apparent in the adult chimpanzee. Masako Myowa-Yamakoshi and colleagues used eye-tracking technology to compare the eye movements of 8- and 12-month-old human infants, human adults, and adult chimpanzees as they watched videos presenting goal-directed and non-goal-directed actions by an actor. They found that, while chimpanzees anticipate both action goals in the same way, humans scan the actors' faces more when observing the goal-directed actions. Infants, in particular, refer to actors’ faces significantly more than chimpanzees do. This suggests that chimpanzees may predict the action goal from object related information, whereas humans infer intent from the person carrying out the action.

doi: 10.1038/ncomms1695

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