, Volume 57, Issue 3, pp 433–440 | Cite as

Eye preferences in capuchin monkeys (Sapajus apella)

  • Duncan A. Wilson
  • Masaki Tomonaga
  • Sarah-Jane Vick
Original Article


This study explored whether capuchin monkey eye preferences differ systematically in response to stimuli of positive and negative valence. The ‘valence hypothesis’ proposes that the right hemisphere is more dominant for negative emotional processing and the left hemisphere is more dominant for positive emotional processing. Visual information from each eye is thought to be transferred faster to and primarily processed by the contralateral cerebral hemisphere. Therefore, it was predicted capuchin monkeys would show greater left eye use for looking at negative stimuli and greater right eye use for looking at positive stimuli. Eleven captive capuchin monkeys were presented with four images of different emotional valence (an egg and capuchin monkey raised eyebrow face were categorised as positive, and a harpy eagle face and capuchin monkey threat face were categorised as negative) and social relevance (consisting of capuchin monkey faces or not), and eye preferences for viewing the stimuli through a monocular viewing hole were recorded. While strong preferences for using either the left or right eye were found for most individuals, there was no consensus at the population level. Furthermore, the direction of looking, number of looks and duration of looks did not differ significantly with the emotional valence of the stimuli. These results are inconsistent with the main hypotheses about the relationship between eye preferences and processing of emotional stimuli. However, the monkeys did show significantly more arousal behaviours (vocalisation, door-touching, self-scratching and hand-rubbing) when viewing the negatively valenced stimuli than the positively valenced stimuli, indicating that the stimuli were emotionally salient. These findings do not provide evidence for a relationship between eye preferences and functional hemispheric specialisations, as often proposed in humans. Additional comparative studies are required to better understand the phylogeny of lateral biases, particularly in relation to emotional valence.


Eye preferences Behavioural laterality Hemispheric specialisations Emotion Capuchin monkeys 



We sincerely thank the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland’s Edinburgh Zoo, and the staff at the Living Links to Human Evolution Research Centre. We would especially like to thank Professor Andrew Whiten and Dr. Nicolas Claidière for permission to work at the centre, and Dr. Eoin O’Sullivan for his assistance with monkey identification and handling. This paper is partially based on a dissertation for the Degree of Master of Science in Applied Animal Behaviour and Animal Welfare at the University of Edinburgh, UK. Preparation of the manuscript was financially supported by the MEXT/JSPS KAKENHI (#15H05709) and the JSPS Leading Graduate Program in Primatology and Wildlife Science (U04) at Kyoto University, Japan.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical approval

The study was approved by the Research Ethics Review Committee at the University of Edinburgh, UK, and complied with regulations of the Association for the Study of Animal Behaviour (ASAB 2012).


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Copyright information

© Japan Monkey Centre and Springer Japan 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Duncan A. Wilson
    • 1
  • Masaki Tomonaga
    • 1
  • Sarah-Jane Vick
    • 2
  1. 1.Primate Research InstituteKyoto UniversityInuyamaJapan
  2. 2.Division of Psychology, School of Natural SciencesUniversity of StirlingStirlingUK

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