Genetic influences on social attention in free-ranging rhesus macaques.


An ethological approach to attention predicts that organisms orient preferentially to valuable sources of information in the environment. For many gregarious species, orienting to other individuals provides valuable social information but competes with food acquisition, water consumption and predator avoidance. Individual variation in vigilance behaviour in humans spans a continuum from inattentive to pathological levels of interest in others. To assess the comparative biology of this behavioural variation, we probed vigilance rates in free-ranging macaques during water drinking, a behaviour incompatible with the gaze and postural demands of vigilance. Males were significantly more vigilant than females. Moreover, vigilance showed a clear genetic component, with an estimated heritability of 12%. Monkeys carrying a relatively infrequent 'long' allele of TPH2, a regulatory gene that influences serotonin production in the brain, were significantly less vigilant compared to monkeys that did not carry the allele. These findings resonate with the hypothesis that the serotonin pathway regulates vigilance in primates and by extension provoke the idea that individual variation in vigilance and its underlying biology may be adaptive rather than pathological.





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Publication Info

Watson, KK, D Li, LJN Brent, JE Horvath, J Gonzalez-Martinez, Ruiz-A Lambides, AG Robinson, JHP Skene, et al. (2015). Genetic influences on social attention in free-ranging rhesus macaques. Animal behaviour, 103. pp. 267–275. 10.1016/j.anbehav.2015.02.012 Retrieved from

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