How do chimpanzees use facial expressions to communicate?

Days Left
  • $30
  • 1%
  • 12
    days left

About This Project

Facial expressions allow chimpanzees to communicate emotions with one another. When chimpanzees see a facial expression, they perform an interesting behaviour called facial mimicry. Facial mimicry is one of the most basic forms of emotional contagion, as the matching of facial expressions results in the matching of emotions. By understanding mimicry, we can aim to understand how emotions are experienced and shared in chimpanzees!

Ask the Scientists

Join The Discussion

What is the context of this research?

Emotional contagion and empathy are crucial mechanisms for successful social interactions among human and non-human primates. Non-verbal signals such as facial expressions play an important role in this, as mimicry of these expressions between interacting partners results in the matching of emotional states in those individuals. The behaviour of matching the facial expression, and consequently the emotions of another individual is called facial mimicry, act as social glue, enhancing group cohesiveness and belongingness when performed. Amongst chimpanzees, mimicry of smiles and laughter has been reported during interactions such as play, possibly resulting in positive emotional contagion.

What is the significance of this project?

As facial expressions are an essential component of communication for chimpanzees, they could be used to determine and assess how animals feel. Presently, thousands of chimpanzees are kept in captivity, and, despite efforts, abnormal behaviours indicative of serious distress prevail. This results in chimpanzees being aggressive towards themselves and others, and in injuries in zoos and other animal facilities. By attempting to understand how they communicate with us and each other, this research has the potential to provide new evidence that could be used to create more environmentally enriching experiences, better enclosures, and more positive human-animal interactions.

What are the goals of the project?

The aim of this research is to assess how chimpanzees experience and communicate emotional states with each other. Specifically, we will aim to determine which facial expressions are mimicked in interactions between chimpanzees, and the purpose of this mimicry. Because facial expressions and their mimicry create an emotional snowball effect, whereby the emotion of one individual can be passed onto another, we aim to determine the large scale impact that small interactions can have. That is, we aim to determine how positive or negative emotional expressions between two chimpanzees can impact the whole group emotional climate and dynamics. Additionally, we will study chimpanzees from infancy to adulthood to understand the development of emotional expression.


Please wait...

In order to complete this interesting research with chimpanzees, we need enough money to travel to our research site in Zambia (Chimfunshi Wildlife Orphanage). There, we spend our time observing the chimpanzees and recording videos, which we later take back home to analyse. This process is very costly and time-consuming, but necessary when researching wild and semi-wild animals native to Africa. Every bit of funding helps, thank you :)

Endorsed by

I see this project as critical in the context of understanding the well being of primates to ensure unbiased results from preclinical trials. Beyond this practical element, life sciences companies mission is to ensure that nobody (Human or non human) suffers from distresses & diseases including neurological or psychological diseases. This is of utmost importance when engaged in life sciences as a health care practitioner or industry scientist or senior leader. I would recommend to support Sarah in her very important scientific project.

Flag iconProject Timeline

This project will be undertaken over the course of three years as a PhD research. First, specific hypotheses and methodologies will be agreed upon with myself and other researchers at the University of Portsmouth, England. Then, we will start collecting data, mainly in Zambia, but also possibly in local zoos in England. Finally, all data will be analysed, results will be written up in the form of scientific articles, and published for educational purposes!

Aug 21, 2021

Project Launched

Sep 30, 2021

Create Hypothesis and Methodology

Jan 01, 2022

Travel to the Chimfushi Wildlife Orphanage in Zambia

Mar 01, 2022

Run experimental research at the Orphanage

Aug 01, 2022

Collect videos

Meet the Team

Sarah Salphati
Sarah Salphati


University of Edinburgh
View Profile

Sarah Salphati

I am an animal behaviour and welfare scientist, animal rights activist, and just plain and simply an animal lover. My research is aimed at understanding animals themselves, but also human-animal relationships, in an effort to create environments that are suitable for the animals' needs. I specialise in non-human primates and am particularly interested in investigating the close links between chimpanzees and humans. My research focuses on investigating chimpanzees' cognitive complexity, cultural transmission and non-verbal communication, and how understanding the aforementioned can provide us with the tools necessary to optimise their lives in captivity. I am a strong believer that good welfare for animals and positive human-animal relationships can only be achieved through interdisciplinary effort. I enjoy learning from different disciplines, ranging from economics to art, in an attempt to find new strategies that can be implemented to give all animals a life worth living.

Lab Notes

Nothing posted yet.

Project Backers

  • 3Backers
  • 1%Funded
  • $30Total Donations
  • $10.00Average Donation
Please wait...

See Your Scientific Impact

You can help a unique discovery by joining 3 other backers.
Fund This Project
Project journal