Morphological variants of silent bared‐teeth displays have different social interaction outcomes in crested macaques (Macaca nigra)

Peter R. Clark, Bridget M. Waller, Anne M. Burrows, Eglantine Julle‐Danière, Muhammad Agil, Antje Engelhardt, Jérôme Micheletta

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Objectives - While it has been demonstrated that even subtle variation in human facial expressions can lead to significant changes in the meaning and function of expressions, relatively few studies have examined primate facial expressions using similarly objective and rigorous analysis. Construction of primate facial expression repertoires may, therefore, be oversimplified, with expressions often arbitrarily pooled and/or split into subjective pigeonholes. Our objective is to assess whether subtle variation in primate facial expressions is linked to variation in function, and hence to inform future attempts to quantify complexity of facial communication.

Materials and Methods - We used Macaque Facial Action Coding System, an anatomically based and hence more objective tool, to quantify “silent bared‐teeth” (SBT) expressions produced by wild crested macaques engaging in spontaneous behavior, and utilized discriminant analysis and bootstrapping analysis to look for morphological differences between SBT produced in four different contexts, defined by the outcome of interactions: Affiliation, Copulation, Play, and Submission.

Results - We found that SBT produced in these contexts could be distinguished at significantly above‐chance rates, indicating that the expressions produced in these four contexts differ morphologically. We identified the specific facial movements that were typically used in each context, and found that the variability and intensity of facial movements also varied between contexts.

Discussion - These results indicate that nonhuman primate facial expressions share the human characteristic of exhibiting meaningful subtle differences. Complexity of facial communication may not be accurately represented simply by building repertoires of distinct expressions, so further work should attempt to take this subtle variability into account.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere24129
Pages (from-to)411-422
Number of pages12
JournalAmerican Journal of Physical Anthropology
Issue number3
Early online date20 Aug 2020
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2020


  • facial action coding system
  • facial expression
  • macaque
  • silent bared-teeth
  • social behavior


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