In Play We Trust. Rapid Facial Mimicry Predicts the Duration of Playful Interactions in Geladas

The primate play-face is homologous to the human facial display accompanying laughter. Through facial mimicry, the play-face evokes in the perceiver a similar positive emotional state. This sensorimotor and emotional sharing can be adaptive, as it allows individuals to fine-tune their own motor sequences accordingly thus increasing cooperation in play. It has been recently demonstrated that, not only humans and apes, but also geladas are able to mimic others’ facial expressions. Here, we describe two forms of facial mimicry in Theropithecus gelada: rapid (RFM, within 1.0 s) and delayed (DFM, within 5.0 s). Play interactions characterized by the presence of RFM were longer than those with DFM thus suggesting that RFM is a good indicator of the quality of communicative exchanges and behavioral coordination. These findings agree with the proposal of a mirror mechanism operating during perception and imitation of facial expressions. In an evolutionary perspective, our findings suggest that RFM not only was already present in the common ancestor of cercopitecoids and hominoids, but also that there is a relationship between RFM and length and quality of playful interactions. © 2013 Mancini et al.

The primate play-face is homologous to the human facial display accompanying laughter. Through facial mimicry, the play-face evokes in the perceiver a similar positive emotional state. This sensorimotor and emotional sharing can be adaptive, as it allows individuals to fine-tune their own motor sequences accordingly thus increasing cooperation in play. It has been recently demonstrated that, not only humans and apes, but also geladas are able to mimic others’ facial expressions. Here, we describe two forms of facial mimicry in Theropithecus gelada: rapid (RFM, within 1.0 s) and delayed (DFM, within 5.0 s). Play interactions characterized by the presence of RFM were longer than those with DFM thus suggesting that RFM is a good indicator of the quality of communicative exchanges and behavioral coordination. These findings agree with the proposal of a mirror mechanism operating during perception and imitation of facial expressions. In an evolutionary perspective, our findings suggest that RFM not only was already present in the common ancestor of cercopitecoids and hominoids, but also that there is a relationship between RFM and length and quality of playful interactions. © 2013 Mancini et al.

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