People are good at detecting human personalities accurately, even from expressionless mug shots. A study last year showed that we can reliably tell who is extroverted, emotionally stable, agreeable or imaginative – just from their blank and expressionless faces.
We can read chimps too
A new study shows that we can also predict personality traits accurately from expressionless photos of chimps! In the new study from Bangor University of Wales, 139 college students looked at pairs of chimpanzee mug shots. In the photos, the chimps looked straight ahead or at a slight angle with no teeth showing and no shadowing over the eyes which could make them look threatening. Sixty to 70% of the students accurately identified which chimps were dominant and which were not. Accuracy was better with male chimps than females.
The researchers, led by Robert Ward, say they don’t know exactly what characterizes the face of a dominant chimp or an extroverted person. Ward suspects that chimps can detect the difference too. He plans to test that next.
Study underscores our genetic similarity to chimps
What’s the significance of these studies? The researchers conclude that the ability to detect important personality traits from facial structure (not expressions) evolved 7 million years ago in a common ancestor of both chimps and humans. The fact that humans can read chimp facial expressions suggests that this ability is “part of an evolved system.”
Chimps are our closest relatives, sharing 98% of the our DNA. It’s not too surprising that we should able to read their faces in the same way we read human faces.
Wouldn’t it be nice…
I’m always glad when I see a study like this. I have this fantasy that once we realize how smart and how like us chimpanzees and other great apes are, the tide will turn on protecting our ape relatives from impending extinction.
For more information about what you can do to protect wild apes, see these links to primate conservation NGOs:
Jane Goodall Institute
Sumatran Orangutan Society
Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International
Orangutan Land Trust
International Primate Protection League
TRAFFIC:the wildlife trade monitoring network
Some of my previous posts about primates and primate conservation:
Laws flaunted: flourishing pet trade threatens orangutans’ survival August 23, 2010
My search for a wild orangutan in Borneo and Sumatra August 16, 2010
Orangutans dwindle as Borneo, Sumatra converted to palm-oil plantations August 3, 2010
The U.S. imports 20,000 primates per year. February, 2010
Baboons are Africa’s most widespread primate. Females rule! December 30, 2009
Mama monkeys give in to tantrums….when others are watching. April 23, 2009
Angry chimp reveals a “uniquely human” ability. March 21, 2009
Chimps’ short-term memory is better than humans’ April 2, 2008
Chimps share human trait of altruism August 3, 2007
Keywords: chimpanzees chimps Robert Ward University of Bangor