Chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) produce the same types of ‘laugh faces’ when they emit laughter and when they are silent

Marina Davila-Ross, Goncalo Jesus, Jade Osborne, Kim A. Bard

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The ability to flexibly produce facial expressions and vocalizations has a strong impact on the way humans communicate, as it promotes more explicit and versatile forms of communication. Whereas facial expressions and vocalizations are unarguably closely linked in primates, the extent to which these expressions can be produced independently in nonhuman primates is unknown. The present work, thus, examined if chimpanzees produce the same types of facial expressions with and without accompanying vocalizations, as do humans. Forty-six chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) were video-recorded during spontaneous play with conspecifics at the Chimfunshi Wildlife Orphanage. ChimpFACS was applied, a standardized coding system to measure chimpanzee facial movements, based on FACS developed for humans. Data showed that the chimpanzees produced the same 14 configurations of open-mouth faces when laugh sounds were present and when they were absent. Chimpanzees, thus, produce these facial expressions flexibly without being morphologically constrained by the accompanying vocalizations. Furthermore, the data indicated that the facial expression plus vocalization and the facial expression alone were used differently in social play, i.e., when in physical contact with the playmates and when matching the playmates’ open-mouth faces. These findings provide empirical evidence that chimpanzees produce distinctive facial expressions independently from a vocalization, and that their multimodal use affects communicative meaning, important traits for a more explicit and versatile way of communication. As it is still uncertain how human laugh faces evolved, the ChimpFACS data were also used to empirically examine the evolutionary relation between open-mouth faces with laugh sounds of chimpanzees and laugh faces of humans. The ChimpFACS results revealed that laugh faces of humans must have gradually emerged from laughing open-mouth faces of ancestral apes. This work examines the main evolutionary changes of laugh faces since the last common ancestor of chimpanzees and humans.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0127337
Number of pages11
JournalPLoS One
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 10 Jun 2015


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