Animal Cognition

, Volume 14, Issue 2, pp 303–308

Visual laterality in dolphins when looking at (un)familiar humans

  • Hélène Thieltges
  • Alban Lemasson
  • Stan Kuczaj
  • Martin Böye
  • Catherine Blois-Heulin
Short Communication


Understanding the evolution of brain lateralisation including the origin of human visual laterality requires an understanding of brain lateralisation in related animal species. However, little is known about the visual laterality of marine mammals. To help correct this lack, we evaluated the influence of familiarity with a human on the visual response of five captive bottlenose dolphins. Dolphins gazed longer at unfamiliar than at familiar humans, revealing their capacity to discriminate between these two types of stimuli. Pooled data for responses to all test stimuli demonstrated a preferential use of left eye by all our five dolphin subjects. However, familiarity with particular humans did not influence preferential use of a given eye. Finally, we compared our results with those on other vertebrates.

Keywords Tursiops truncatus Common bottlenose dolphin Perceptual laterality Human–animal familiarity 


  1. Alonso Y (1988) Lateralization of visual guided behaviour during feeding in zebra finches (Taeniopygia guttata). Behav Process 43:257–263CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Andrew RJ (1983) Lateralization of emotional and cognitive function in higher vertebrates, with special reference to the domestic chick. Adv vertebr neuroethol 477–505 In: Ewert JP, Capranica RR, & Ingle DJ (eds)Google Scholar
  3. Baraud I, Buytet B, Bec P, Blois-Heulin C (2009) Social laterality and ‘transversality’ in two species of mangabeys: influence of rank and implication for hemispheric specialization. Behav Brain Res 198:449–458CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  4. Bisazza A, Rogers LJ, Vallortigara G (1998) The origins of cerebral asymmetry: a review of evidence of behavioural and brain lateralization in fishes, reptiles and amphibians. Neurosci Biobehav Rev 22:411–426CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  5. Bisazza A, De Santi A, Bonso S, Sovrano VA (2002) Frogs and toads in front of a mirror: lateralization of response to social stimuli on tadpoles of five anuran species. Behav Brain Res 134:417–424CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  6. Cadwell MC, Cadwell DK, Siebenaler JB (1965) Observations on captive and wild Atlantic bottlenosed dolphnins, Tursiop truncates, in the Northeastern Gulf of Mexico. Los Angeles Cty Mus Contrib sci 91:1–10Google Scholar
  7. Cantalupo C, Bisazza A, Vallortigara G (1995) Lateralization of predator evasion response in a teleost Wsh (Girardinus falcatus: Poeciliidae). Neuropsychologia 33:1637–1646CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  8. Cantalupo C, Bisazza A, Vallortigara G (1996) Lateralization of displays during aggressive and courtship behaviour in the Siamese fighting fish (Betta splendens). Physiol Behav 60:249–252CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  9. Casperd LM, Dunbar RIM (1996) Asymmetries in the visual processing of emotional cues during agonistic interactions by gelalda baboons. Behav Process 37:57–65CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Chapelain AS, Blois-Heulin C (2009) Eye preference in Campbell’s monkeys (Cercopithecus c. campbelli). Anim Cogn 12:11–19CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  11. Clapham PJ, Leimkuhler E, Gray BK, Mattila DK (1995) Do humpback whales exhibit lateralized behaviour? Anim Behav 50:73–82CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. de Latude M, Demange M, Bec P, Blois-Heulin C (2009) Visual laterality responses to different emotive stimuli by red-capped mangabeys, Cercocebus torquatus torquatus. Anim Cogn 12:31–42CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  13. de Schonen S, Mativet E (1990) Hemispheric specialization in face recognition in human infants. Child Dev 61:1192–1205CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  14. Deckel AW, Fuqua L (1998) Effects of serotonergic drugs on lateralized aggression and aggressive displays in Anolis carolinensis. Behav Brain Res 95:227–232CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  15. Delfour F, Marten K (2006) Lateralized visual behavior in bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) performing audio-visual tasks: the right visual field advantage. Behav Process 71:41–50CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. des Roches A, Richard-Yris MA, Henry S, Ezzaouïa M, Hausberger M (2008) Laterality and emotions: visual laterality in the domestic horse (Equus caballus) differs with objects’ emotional value. Physiol Behav 94:487–490CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Fagard J, Streri J (2006) Developpement des asymmetries chez le bébé. In: Fagard J (ed) Droitiers et gauchers des asymétries dans tous les sens. pp, Solal Press, pp 49–70Google Scholar
  18. Franklin WE, Lima SL (2001) Laterality in avian vigilance: do sparrows have a favourite eye? Anim Behav 62:879–885CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Güntürkün O (1985) Lateralization of visually controlled behavior in pigeons. Physiol Behav 34:575–577CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  20. Güntürkün O, Kesh S (1987) Visual lateralization during feeding in the pigeons. Behav Neurosci 101:433–435CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  21. Herman LM, Gordon JA (1974) Auditory delayed matching in the bottlenosed dolphin. J Exp Anal Behav 21:19–26CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  22. Herman LM, Hovancik JR, Gory JD, Bradshaw GL (1989) Generalization of visual matching by a bottlenosed dolphin (Tursiops truncatus): Evidence for invariance of cognitive performance with visual or auditory materials. J Exp Psychol Anim Behav Process 15:124–136CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Hook-Costigan MA, Rogers LJ (1995) Hand, mouth and eye preferences in the common marmosets (Callithrix jacchus). Folia Primatol 64:180–191CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  24. Hook-Costigan MA, Rogers LJ (1998) Eye preferences in common marmosets (Callithrix jacchus): influence of age, stimulus and hand preferences. Laterality 3:109–130CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  25. Hopkins WD, Bennett AJ (1994) Handedness and approach-avoiding behaviour in chimpanzees (Pan). J Exp Psychol Anim Behav Process 20:413–418CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  26. Kilian A, von Fersen L, Güntürkün O (2000) Lateralization of visuospatial processing in the bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus). Behav Brain Res 116:211–215CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  27. Kilian A, von Fersen L, Güntürkün O (2005) Left hemispheric advantage for numerical abilities in the bottlenose dolphin. Behav Process 68:179–184CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Kruper DC, Boyle BE, Patton RA (1966) Eyes and hand preferences in rhesus monkeys (Macaca mulatta). Psychol Sci 5:277–278Google Scholar
  29. Kuczaj SA II, Walker R (2006) Problem solving in dolphins. In: Zentall T, Wasserman E (eds) Comparative cognition: experimental explorations of animal intelligence. Oxford University Press, New York, pp 580–601Google Scholar
  30. Kuczaj SA II, Makecha RN, Trone M, Paulos RD, Ramos JA (2006) The role of peers in cultural transmission and cultural innovation: evidence from dolphin calves. Int J Comp Psychol 19:223–240Google Scholar
  31. Lippolis G, Westman W, McAllan BM, Rogers LJ (2005) Lateralisation of escape responses in the stripe-faced dunnart, Sminthopsis macroura (Dasyuridae: Marsupialia). Laterality 10:457–470PubMedGoogle Scholar
  32. MacNeilage PF, Rogers LJ, Vallortigara G (2009) Origins of the left and right brain. Sci Am 301:60–67CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  33. Manger PR, Hemingway J, Haagensen M, Gilissen E (2010) Cross-sectional area of the elephant corpus callosum: comparison to other eutherian mammals. Neuroscience 167:815–824CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  34. Marino L, Stowe J (1997a) Lateralized behavior in a captive beluga whale (Delphinapterus leucas). Aquat Mamm 23:101–103Google Scholar
  35. Marino L, Stowe J (1997b) Lateralized behavior in two captive bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus). Zoo Biol 16:173–177CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Peirce J, Leigh A, Kendrick K (2000) Configurational coding, familiarity and the right hemisphere advantage for face recognition in sheep. Neuropsychologia 38:475–483CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  37. Quaranta A, Siniscalchi M, Vallortigara G (2007) Asymmetric tail wagging responses by dogs to different emotive stimuli. Curr Biol 17:199–201CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Ridgway SH (1986) Physiological observations on the dolphin brain. In: Schusterman RJ, Thomas JA, Wood FG (eds) Dolphin cognition and behavior: a comparative approach. Lawrence Erlbaum, Hillsdale, pp 31–59Google Scholar
  39. Rogers LJ, Anson JM (1979) Lateralization of function in the chicken forebrain. Pharmacol Biochem Behav 10:679–686CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  40. Sakai M, Hishii T, Takeda S, Kohshima S (2006) Laterality of flipper rubbing behaviour in wild bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops aduncus): caused by asymmetry of eye use? Behav Brain Res 170:204–210CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  41. Sobel N, Supin A, Myslobodsky M (1994) Rotational swimming tendencies in the dolphin (Tursiops truncatus). Behav Brain Res 65:41–45CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  42. Sovrano V, Rainoldi C, Bisazza A, Vallortigara G (1999) Roots of brain specializations: preferential left-eye use during mirror-image inspection in six species of teleost fish. Behav Brain Res 106:175–180CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Thompson RKR, Herman LM (1977) Memory for lists of sounds by the bottlenose dolphin: convergence of memory processes with humans? Science 195:501–503CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  44. Tommasi L, Vallortigara G (2001) Encoding of geometric and landmark information in the left and right hemispheres of the avian brain. Behav Neurosci 115:602–613CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  45. Tommasi L, Vallortigara G (2004) Hemispheric processing of landmark and geometric information in male and female domestic chicks (Gallus gallus). Behav Brain Res 155:85–96CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  46. Vallortigara G (1992) Right hemisphere advantage for social recognition in the chick. Neuropsychologia 30:761–768CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  47. Vallortigara G, Andrew RJ (1994) Differential involvement of right and left hemisphere in individual recognition in the domestic chick. Behav Processes 33:41–57CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Vallortigara G, Rogers LJ (2005) Survival with an asymmetrical brain: advantages and disadvantages of cerebral lateralization. Behav Brain Sci 28:575–589PubMedGoogle Scholar
  49. Ventolini N, Ferrero EA, Sponza S, Della Chiesas A, Zucca P, Vallortigara G (2005) Laterality in the wild: preferential hemifield use during predatory and sexual behaviour in the Black winged stilt (Himantopus himantopus). Anim Behav 69:1077–1084CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Vermeire BA, Hamilton CR, Erdmann AL (1998) Right-hemispheric superiority in split-brain monkeys for learning and remembering facial discriminations. Behav Neurosci 112:1048–1061CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  51. von Fersen L, Schall U, Güntürkün O (2000) Visual lateralization of pattern discrimination in the bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus). Behav Brain Res 107:177–181CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Yaman S, von Fersen L, Dehnhardt G, Güntürkün O (2003) Visual lateralization in the bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus): evidence for a population asymmetry? Behav Brain Res 142:109–114CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • Hélène Thieltges
    • 1
  • Alban Lemasson
    • 1
  • Stan Kuczaj
    • 2
  • Martin Böye
    • 3
  • Catherine Blois-Heulin
    • 1
  1. 1.UMR 6552 University of Rennes–CNRSPaimpontFrance
  2. 2.Department of PsychologyUniversity of Southern MississippiHattiesburgUSA
  3. 3.Département scientifiquePort-Saint-PèreFrance

Personalised recommendations