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Cognitive and physiological markers of emotional awareness in chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes)

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The ability to understand emotion in others is one of the most important factors involved in regulating social interactions in primates. Such emotional awareness functions to coordinate activity among group members, enable the formation of long-lasting individual relationships, and facilitate the pursuit of shared interests. Despite these important evolutionary implications, comparative studies of emotional processing in humans and great apes are practically nonexistent, constituting a major gap in our understanding of the extent to which emotional awareness has played an important role in shaping human behavior and societies. This paper presents the results of two experiments that examine chimpanzees’ responses to emotional stimuli. First, changes in peripheral skin temperature were measured while subjects viewed three categories of emotionally negative video scenes; conspecifics being injected with needles (INJ), darts and needles alone (DART), and conspecific directing agonism towards the veterinarians (CHASE). Second, chimpanzees were required to use facial expressions to categorize emotional video scenes, i.e., favorite food and objects and veterinarian procedures, according to their positive and negative valence. With no prior training, subjects spontaneously matched the emotional videos to conspecific facial expressions according to their shared emotional meaning, indicating that chimpanzee facial expressions are processed emotionally, as are human expressions. Decreases in peripheral skin temperature, indicative of negative sympathetic arousal, were significantly lower when subjects viewed the INJ and DART videos, compared to the CHASE videos, indicating greater negative arousal when viewing conspecifics being injected with needles, and needles themselves, than when viewing conspecifics engaged in general agonism.

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Accepted after revision: 8 April 2001

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Parr, L.A. Cognitive and physiological markers of emotional awareness in chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes). Anim.Cogn. 4, 223–229 (2001).

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