Animal Cognition

, Volume 13, Issue 3, pp 555–564 | Cite as

Perception of biological motion in common marmosets (Callithrix jacchus): by females only

  • J. Brown
  • G. KaplanEmail author
  • L. J. Rogers
  • G. Vallortigara
Original Paper


The ability to perceive biological motion (BM) has been demonstrated in a number of species including humans but the few studies of non-human primates have been relatively inconclusive. We investigated whether common marmosets (Callithrix jacchus) are able to perceive biological motion, using a novel method to test non-human primates. Marmosets (7 male and 7 female) were trained to remove a cover from a container and look inside it, revealing a computer screen. Then they were presented with images on this computer screen consisting of a novel BM pattern (a walking hen) and 4 manipulations of that pattern (a static frame of this pattern and inverted, scrambled, and rotating versions of the pattern). The behavioural responses of the marmosets were recorded and used to assess discrimination between stimuli. BM was attended to by females but not males, as shown by active inspection behaviour, mainly movement of the head towards the stimulus. Females paid significantly less attention to all of the other stimuli. This indicates the females’ ability to attend to biological motion. Females showed slightly more attention to the inverted BM than to the static, scrambled, and rotating patterns. The males were less attentive to all of the stimuli than were the females and, unlike the females, responded to all stimuli in a similar manner. This sex difference could be due to an inability of males to recognise BM altogether or to a lesser amount of curiosity. Considered together with the findings of previous studies on chicks and humans, the results of the present study support the notion of a common mechanism across species for the detection of BM.


Common marmoset Biological motion Sex difference Moving dot patterns 



We are grateful to the Australian Research Council for funding to L.J.R. in support of the marmoset colony at UNE. This project was part of the requirements of J.B.’s Honours degree at the University of New England. The housing and testing conditions of the marmosets were in accordance with the principles and regulations of the Australian Code of Practice for the Care and Use of Animals for Scientific Purposes (1997) and approved by the Animal Ethics committee at the University of New England (AEC08/037).

Supplementary material

S1. The walking hen: This sequence was obtained by locating points of light on the digitalised version of a video recording of a real walking hen. It shows the hen walking towards the left side of the screen. (AVI 14 kb)

S2. The inverted hen: This stimulus was obtained by inverting the walking hen from a canonical upright position to an upside down position. (AVI 393 kb)

S3. The rotating hen: To obtain the rotating hen, a single frame of the walking hen sequence was rotated rigidly anticlockwise as if it were a solid object. (AVI 13 kb)

S4. The scrambled hen: To obtain the scrambled hen, the position of each point of light of the walking hen sequence was displaced, resulting in a motion that is still perceived by humans as being biological, though not belonging to any particular known species. (AVI 13 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • J. Brown
    • 1
  • G. Kaplan
    • 1
    Email author
  • L. J. Rogers
    • 1
  • G. Vallortigara
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.Centre for Neuroscience and Animal BehaviourSchool of Science and Technology, University of New EnglandArmidaleAustralia
  2. 2.Centre for Mind/Brain SciencesUniversity of TrentoRoveretoItaly

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