, Volume 43, Issue 3, pp 217-222

Early environment shapes the development of gaze aversion by wild bonnet macaques (Macaca radiata)

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Among many species of primates, staring is perceived as a sign of aggression and averting the gaze usually serves to reduce such conflict. The current study conducted in southern India documented developmental differences among wild bonnet macaques (Macaca radiata) in their latency to gaze avert after establishing eye contact with other individuals. Feeding stations were used to gather macaques within a small area to facilitate the video recording of group dynamics and eye contact between subordinate and dominant individuals. Individuals were grouped into three age classes: juveniles, subadult males, and adult males. Comparisons were also made between urban and forest dwelling troops. In the forest, juveniles established eye contact with older males for significantly longer periods of time than did adults. A linear trend was observed in which the latency to gaze avert after establishing eye contact decreased with age. This trend was not evident in the urban troops, for which the latency to gaze avert did not change significantly with age. Urban juveniles were also more likely to be chased when they established eye contact with adults compared with their forest counterparts. These differences could be the result of increased predatory risk in the forest setting — the necessity for heightened predator vigilance in forests may reduce the frequency with which juveniles are monitored and chased or attacked as a result of their eye contact. Conversely, the rarity of predators in the city may engender more intense aggressive behavior between monkeys, accelerating the rate of learning to signal appeasement to dominant males.