Chimpanzees and Humans Mimic Pupil-Size of Conspecifics.
Mariska Kret, Masaki Tomonaga, Tetsuro Matsuzawa
Group-living typically provides benefits to individual group members but also confers costs. To avoid incredulity and betrayal and allow trust and cooperation, individuals must understand the intentions and emotions of their group members. Humans attend to other's eyes and from gaze and pupil-size cues, infer information about the state of mind of the observed. In humans, pupil-size tends to mimic that of the observed. Here we tested whether pupil-mimicry exists in our closest relative, the chimpanzee (P. troglodytes). We conjectured that if pupil-mimicry has adaptive value, e.g. to promote swift communication of inner states and facilitate shared understanding and coordination, pupil-mimicry should emerge within but not across species. Pupillometry data was collected from human and chimpanzee subjects while they observed images of the eyes of both species with dilating/constricting pupils. Both species showed enhanced pupil-mimicry with members of their own species, with effects being strongest in humans and chimpanzee mothers. Pupil-mimicry may be deeply-rooted, but probably gained importance from the point in human evolution where the morphology of our eyes became more prominent. Humans' white sclera surrounding the iris, and the fine muscles around their eyes facilitate non-verbal communication via eye signals.