The researchers -- graduate student Stephen Shepherd, postdoctoral fellow Robert Deaner and Assistant Professor of Neurobiology Michael Platt -- found when high-ranking monkeys were shown images of other monkeys glancing one way or the other, they more readily followed the gaze of other high-ranking monkeys.
By contrast, the animals tended to ignore glance cues from low-status monkeys -- while the low-status monkeys assiduously followed the gaze of all other monkeys.
The researchers say the discovery reveals gaze-following is more than a reflex action -- it also involves lightning-fast social perception.
Such a discovery in monkeys allows scientists to begin to understand the physiology and neural machinery of status, they said.
The findings appeared in the Feb. 21 issue of Current Biology.