Monkeys have a brain circuit for analysing social interactions


Gaze tracking and fMRI scanning shows rhesus macaques’ brains process social interactions between other monkeys similarly to how ours do, writes Anthea Batsakis.


A new dimension to our deep evolutionary connection with rhesus macaques – “old world” monkeys – was revealed after researchers identified a region of the brain exclusively used to deconstruct social interactions.

Using whole-brain functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), two researchers from the Rockefeller University in New York showed the monkeys videos of other monkeys interacting with each other and with objects.

They found neural networks in the part of the brain associated with visual processing were highly active when the monkeys watched videos of monkey–monkey interactions, such as grooming, playing and fighting. The researchers also observed another neural network that specifically activated when watching these videos.

These brain circuitry patterns resemble the human brain systems associated with social connections, showing that these primates have a high level of social cognition.

In the video above, we can see the directions of one monkey’s gaze, indicated by a red dot.

Their findings were published in the journal AAAS.

Anthea Batsakis is a freelance journalist in Melbourne, Australia.