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High-ranking monkeys: snobbish behavior

March 22, 2006 at 2:24 PM

DURHAM, N.C., March 22 (UPI) -- Duke University scientists say they've determined high-ranking monkeys tend to follow other high-ranking monkeys, ignoring low-status associates.

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.