Experimental evidence that female rhesus macaques (Macaca mulatta) perceive variation in male facial masculinity

Kevin A. Rosenfield, Stuart Semple, Alexander V. Georgiev, Dario Maestripieri, James P. Higham, Constance Dubuc

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    Among many primate species, face shape is sexually dimorphic, and male facial masculinity has been proposed to influence female mate choice and male-male competition by signalling competitive ability. However, whether conspecifics pay attention to facial masculinity has only been assessed in humans. In a study of free-ranging rhesus macaques, Macaca mulatta, we used a two-alternative look-time experiment to test whether females perceive male facial masculinity. We presented 107 females with pairs of images of male faces-one with a more masculine shape and one more feminine-and recorded their looking behaviour. Females looked at the masculine face longer than at the feminine face in more trials than predicted by chance. Although there was no overall difference in average look-time between masculine and feminine faces across all trials, females looked significantly longer at masculine faces in a subset of trials for which the within-pair difference in masculinity was most pronounced. Additionally, the proportion of time subjects looked toward the masculine face increased as the within-pair difference in masculinity increased. This study provides evidence that female macaques perceive variation in male facial shape, a necessary condition for intersexual selection to operate on such a trait. It also highlights the potential impact of perceptual thresholds on look-time experiments.

    Original languageEnglish (US)
    Article number181415
    JournalRoyal Society Open Science
    Issue number1
    StatePublished - 2019


    • Facial masculinity
    • Look-time experiment
    • Mate choice
    • Sexual dimorphism

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • General


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