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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Perception of Scary Halloween Masks by Zoo Animals and Humans

  • Author(s): Sinnott, Joan M.
  • Speaker, H. Anton
  • Powell, Laura A.
  • Mosteller, Kelly W.
  • et al.
Creative Commons 'BY' version 4.0 license

Zoo animals were tested to see if they perceived the scary nature of Halloween masks, using a procedure that measured the avoidance response latency to take food from a masked human experimenter. Human perception of the masks was also assessed using a rating scale, with results showing that a Bill Clinton mask was rated not scary, while a Vampire mask was rated very scary. Animal results showed that primate latencies correlated significantly with the human ratings, while non-primate latencies did not. Taken together, these results indicate that human perception of scary faces does not depend upon human-specific cultural factors, e.g., belief in the supernatural. Rather, it has a more biological basis, shared specifically with other primates, by which scary faces are perceived as predators or threatening conspecifics.

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