- 4th Year Undergraduate Student
- Biology and Physiology
- Georgia Tech
- 4th Year Master’s Student
- Comparative Primate Social Cognition
- Georgia State
A Matter of Trust
We were inspired by the study of primates and the evolutionary connection between human and non-human primates. Through the study of our closest living evolutionary relatives, we can better understand ourselves and the ways in which we are connected to fellow members of the animal kingdom. Like many primate species, capuchins live complex social lives and participate in social learning. White-faced capuchins even show signs of shared practices among members of social groups akin to traditions passed along in human cultures. In one such practice—known as the “eye-poking game”—two capuchins sit side-by-side, doing nothing but hold their finger under the other’s eyelid. At first glance, this practice may seem bizarre and unnecessarily dangerous. When having another monkey’s finger in your eye creates potential for injury, why take the risk? Why would other monkeys join in? Just ask a child why they’ve ever done a “trust fall” with their friends! This aptly named playground activity highlights one explanation for the eye-poking game: building trust. Just as monkeys risk injury when having their eye poked, children risk injury when falling backward in the hope that a friend will catch them. However, when participants in either activity successfully engage without harming the other, trust is built. This piece depicts a white-faced capuchin reaching out toward a human’s eye as if they were playing the eye-poking game. Though capuchins do not play this game with humans, the depiction represents the importance of social connection shared across primate species.