Abstract # 160:

Scheduled for Sunday, September 20, 2009 06:30 PM-09:00 PM: Session 14 (Mission Bay Ballroom CDE) Poster Presentation


J. A. Schaeffer1, J. L. Russell1, T. Nir1, J. P. Taglialatela1,2 and W. D. Hopkins1,3
1Yerkes National Primate Research Center, Department of Psychobiology, 954 Gatewood Road, Atlanta, GA 30329, USA, 2Department of Natural Science, Clayton State University, Morrow, Georgia 30260, 3Department of Psychology, Agnes Scott College, Decatur, Georgia 30030

Studies in nonhuman primates have demonstrated gaze following and initiation of joint attention abilities, particularly among great apes. However, whether gaze following and initiating joint attention have a common underlying cognitive structure has not been investigated. The current study assessed the abilities of 47 captive chimpanzees to follow the gaze of an experimenter and to initiate joint attention to request unattainable food by utilizing gaze alternation in combination with manual gestures. During three 10-second trials subjects were scored for whether they followed an experimenter’s upward gaze. In three additional 60-second trials subjects were scored for alternating their gaze in combination with a gesture between a food item and experimenter. Subjects that followed gaze or initiated joint attention on 2 or 3 trials were considered successful on the tasks. A significant association was found between success on the gaze following task and initiating joint attention [McNemar test, p<0.02]. Seventy-three percent of the apes that successfully initiated joint attention were also consistent in following gaze. In contrast, only 57% of the subjects that unreliably initiated joint attention were successful on 2 or 3 trials on the gaze following task. Though there are considerable individual differences, joint attention and gaze following seems to have a common cognitive mechanism and may have served as the foundation for intra-subjective communication and theory of mind as suggested by some theorists.