Infant monkeys’ concept of animacy: the role of eyes and fluffiness

Abstract

Both human and nonhuman primates have been suggested to possess some essential knowledge about animate entities, but it remains unclear whether the concept of animacy is shared across species, which properties are used as an “animacy marker,” and whether such ability is present at birth. We investigated infant Japanese monkeys’ looking responses towards novel objects varying in both physical appearance and self-propelled motion, with the aim of depicting the role of eyes and fluffiness in the early recognition of animacy. Presented with an inanimate natural stone, three-month-old monkeys showed longer looking times at the stone’s self-propelled motion than at its baseline still posture. This effect became significantly smaller when artificial fur was attached to the stone, while adding artificial eyes did not elicit a departing pattern in their looking behavior. In contrast, one-month-old monkeys showed no systematic differences in their looking behavior. This suggests that the concept of animacy in terms of self-propelledness may develop between one and three months of age, with sensitivity to texture emerging by three months. Development of biological knowledge is discussed in relation to social knowledge from both ontogenetic and phylogenetic perspectives.

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