Phylogenetic proximity influences humans' depictions of nonhuman primates on Instagram Academic Article uri icon


  • Portraits of humans favour the left cheek, with emotion thought to drive this posing asymmetry. In primates the emotion-dominant right hemisphere predominantly controls the left hemiface, rendering the left cheek anatomically more expressive than the right. As perceptions of nonhuman primates vary with genetic relatedness, depictions of nonhuman primates should theoretically be influenced by their phylogenetic proximity to humans. The present study thus examined whether humans depict nonhuman primates showing the left cheek, and whether depictions vary with evolutionary distance. Photographs of nonhuman primates were sourced from Instagram's "Most recent" feed: great apes (#chimpanzee, #bonobo, #gorilla, #orangutan), lesser apes (#gibbon), Old World monkeys (#baboon, #macaque, #proboscismonkey), New World monkeys (#spidermonkey, #marmosetmonkey, #capuchin), and prosimians (#lemur, #slowloris, #tarsier). The first 500 single-subject images for each hashtag (except #slowloris for which 318 images were available) were coded for pose orientation (left, right) and portrait type (head/torso, full body). As anticipated, there was a left cheek bias for great apes but no bias for more distantly related primates. These data thus suggest that depictions of nonhuman primates are implicitly influenced by phylogenetic proximity: the more closely related the primate, the more likely we are to depict them as we do ourselves, showing the left cheek.

publication date

  • 2020