Who cares? Experimental attention biases provide new insights into a mammalian sexual signal

Constance Dubuc, William L. Allen, Julie Cascio, D. Susie Lee, Dario Maestripieri, Megan Petersdorf, Sandra Winters, James P. Higham

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    The effects of intrasexual and intersexual selection on male trait evolution can be difficult to disentangle, especially based on observational data. Male-male competition can limit an observer's ability to identify the effect of female mate choice independently from sexual coercion. Here, we use an experimental approach to explore whether an ornament, the red facial skin exhibited by male rhesus macaques (Macaca mulatta), might be involved in both female mate choice and male-male competition. We used a noninvasive experimental approach based on the looking time paradigm in a free-ranging setting, showing images of differently colored male faces to both adult females (N = 91) and males (N = 77), as well as to juveniles (N = 94) as a control. Results show that both adult females and males looked longer at dark red faces compared with pale pink ones. However, when considering the proportion of subjects that looked longer at dark red faces regardless of preference strength, only females showed a significant dark red bias. In contrast, juveniles did not show any preferences between stimuli, suggesting that the adult bias is not a consequence of the experimental design or related to a general sensory bias for red coloration among all age-sex classes. Collectively, these results support the role the ornament plays in female mate choice in this species and provide the first evidence that this ornament may play a role in male-male competition as well, despite a general lack of observational evidence for the latter effect to date.

    Original languageEnglish (US)
    Pages (from-to)68-74
    Number of pages7
    JournalBehavioral Ecology
    Issue number1
    StatePublished - 2016


    • color ornamentation
    • looking time paradigm
    • sexual selection
    • signaling

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
    • Animal Science and Zoology


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