Socially tolerant macaques use more complex facial behavior than intolerant macaques


The social complexity hypothesis for communicative complexity posits that animal societies with more complex social systems require more complex communication systems. We tested the social complexity hypothesis on three macaque species that vary in their degree of social tolerance and complexity. We coded facial behavior in >3000 social interactions across three social contexts (aggressive, submissive, affiliative) in 389 animals, using the Facial Action Coding System for macaques (MaqFACS). We quantified communicative complexity using three measures of uncertainty: entropy, specificity, and prediction error. We found that the relative entropy of facial behavior was higher for the more tolerant crested macaques as compared to the less tolerant Barbary and rhesus macaques across all social contexts, indicating that crested macaques more frequently use a higher diversity of facial behavior. The context specificity of facial behavior was higher in rhesus as compared to Barbary and crested macaques, demonstrating that Barbary and crested macaques used facial behavior more flexibly across different social contexts. Finally, a random forest classifier predicted social context from facial behavior with highest accuracy for rhesus and lowest for crested, indicating there is higher uncertainty and complexity in the facial behavior of crested macaques. Overall, our results support the social complexity hypothesis. © 2022 The Author(s)