Previous Studies on Face Processing in Chimpanzees
see Publications page for papers on these studies
Many aspects of social cognition rely on the ability to extract information from faces, like identity, gender, age, and even emotional state.
All faces have the same basic configuration, called the first order configuration. All faces, for example, contain the same set of features - eyes, nose, mouth etc. - arranged in the same general pattern. The first order configuration allows us to detect faces in a complex visual environment.
All faces are also unique in that the relative size and spacing of these features within a face is different in each person. This is called the second order configuration and it is this type of information that enables us to discriminate among faces, e.g., recognize the difference between Mary and Jane. The ability to recognize many different faces is referred to as face expertise and it takes many years to achieve.
Interestingly, face recognition deficits are a common symptom in many different neurodevelopmental and neuropathological disorders, like autism, schizophrenia, and depression, and studying the basic biology and evolution of this special social cognitive skill could lead to novel insights in our understanding of these disorders.
Facial Expression Discrimination
My lab has been involved in numerous studies on the ability of chimpanzees to discriminate and categorize their facial expressions. We have also built and extensive ethogram of the facial expression repertoire of this species (Parr et al., 2005).
Additionally, in 2006 we began a collaboration with the University of Portsmouth in the UK to develop a Facial Action Coding System (FACS) for chimpanzees (www.chimpfacs.com, Vick et al., 2007) and since then a rhesus monkey FACS (MaqFACS, see this site). These comparative tools make it possible to directly compare the facial expressions between humans and these related primates.