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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Perception of Scary Halloween Masks by Zoo Animals and Humans


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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