African elephants (Loxodonta africana) recognize visual attention from face and body orientation

Anna F. Smet, Richard William Byrne

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Citations (Scopus)
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How do animals determine when others are able and disposed to receive their communicative signals? In particular, it is futile to make a silent gesture when the intended audience cannot see it. Some non-human primates use the head and body orientation of their audience to infer visual attentiveness when signalling, but whether species relying less on visual information use such cues when producing visual signals is unknown. Here, we test whether African elephants (Loxodonta africana) are sensitive to the visual perspective of a human experimenter. We examined whether the frequency of gestures of head and trunk, produced to request food, was influenced by indications of an experimenter's visual attention. Elephants signalled significantly more towards the experimenter when her face was oriented towards them, except when her body faced away from them. These results suggest that elephants understand the importance of visual attention for effective communication.
Original languageEnglish
Article number20140428
Number of pages4
JournalBiology Letters
Issue number7
Early online date1 Jul 2014
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2014


  • Perspective taking
  • Communication
  • Audience effect
  • Theory of mind


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