VSL:SCIENCE // The science behind chimpanzee behinds

Could you identify your friends just by looking at photos of their behinds? Researchers put the same question before chimps at the Yerkes National Primate Research Center, in Atlanta — and the answers were surprising.

The scientists wanted to know how chimps — which are especially social primates — recognize one another. Do they rely on facial features alone? Or do they use “whole body representations,” which include the ass?

And so, a simple anatomical match game was devised: The scientists asked chimps to pair photographs of various chimp behinds (the chimps used in the experiment were all acquaintances) with photographs of chimp faces. The animals matched butts to faces immediately, suggesting that ass shapes were just as memorable to them as facial features. (Chimps do have memorable behinds — each animal inherits a unique pattern of pink and swollen skin.) While the researchers didn’t comment specifically on the implications for human ass perception, it’s impossible not to speculate; after all, chimps share 98 percent of their genome with humans.

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