Social attention in the two species of Pan: bonobos make more eye contact than chimpanzees

Fumihiro Kano*, Satoshi Hirata, Josep Call

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

46 Citations (Scopus)
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Humans' two closest primate living relatives, bonobos and chimpanzees, differ behaviorally, cognitively, and emotionally in several ways despite their general similarities. While bonobos show more affiliative behaviors towards conspecifics, chimpanzees display more overt and severe aggression against conspecifics. From a cognitive standpoint, bonobos perform better in social coordination, gaze-following and food-related cooperation, while chimpanzees excel in tasks requiring extractive foraging skills. We hypothesized that attention and motivation play an important role in shaping the species differences in behavior, cognition, and emotion. Thus, we predicted that bonobos would pay more attention to the other individuals' face and eyes, as those are related to social affiliation and social coordination, while chimpanzees would pay more attention to the action target objects, as they are related to foraging. Using eye-tracking we examined the bonobos' and chimpanzees' spontaneous scanning of pictures that included eyes, mouth, face, genitals, and action target objects of conspecifics. Although bonobos and chimpanzees viewed those elements overall similarly, bonobos viewed the face and eyes longer than chimpanzees, whereas chimpanzees viewed the other elements, the mouth, action target objects and genitals, longer than bonobos. In a discriminant analysis, the individual variation in viewing patterns robustly predicted the species of individuals, thus clearly demonstrating species-specific viewing patterns. We suggest that such attentional and motivational differences between bonobos and chimpanzees could have partly contributed to shaping the species-specific behaviors, cognition, and emotion of these species, even in a relatively short period of evolutionary time.

Original languageEnglish
Article number0129684
Number of pages14
JournalPLoS One
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 15 Jun 2015


  • Human infants
  • Tool use
  • Gaze
  • Faces
  • Troglodytes
  • Monkeys
  • Humans
  • Autism
  • Fixation
  • Patterns


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