Visual attention during neonatal imitation in newborn macaque monkeys

Elizabeth A. Simpson, Annika Paukner, Stephen J. Suomi, Pier F. Ferrari

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Scopus citations


Previous studies suggest that about 50% of rhesus macaque infants engage in neonatal imitation of facial gestures. Here we measured whether individual differences in newborn macaques' (n=49) visual attention may explain why some infants imitate lipsmacking (LPS) and tongue protrusion (TP) gestures. LPS imitators, but not TP imitators, looked more to a human experimenter's face and to a control stimulus compared to nonimitators (p=017). LPS imitation was equally accurate when infants were looking at faces and when they were looking away (p=221); TP imitation was more accurate when infants were looking at faces (p=001). Potentially, less attention is necessary for LPS imitation compared to TP imitation, as LPS is part of macaques' natural communicative repertoire. These findings suggest that facial gestures may differentially engage imitators and nonimitators, and infants' visual attention during neonatal assessments may uncover the conditions that support this skill.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)864-870
Number of pages7
JournalDevelopmental Psychobiology
Issue number4
StatePublished - May 2014
Externally publishedYes


  • Communication
  • Facial gestures
  • Infant
  • Mirror neuron system
  • Monkey
  • Mother-infant interaction
  • Neonatal imitation
  • Newborn
  • Rhesus macaque
  • Social behavior
  • Visual attention

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Developmental Neuroscience
  • Developmental Biology
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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