Preferences for Human Faces in Dolphins?

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Stan Kuczaj

Advisor Department



The current study investigated whether a species of dolphin ( Tursiops truncatus ) showed a preference for individual and average (composite) human faces as do humans. Cognitive prototype theory and evolutionary theory suggest that humans (and perhaps other species) have a cognitive mechanism that promotes the judgment of attractiveness based on averageness and symmetry. Additionally, some evolutionary theory research suggests that this cognitive mechanism may cross species (though this has not yet been tested in dolphins). The current study did provide some evidence for a cognitive evolutionary mechanism. Experiment 1 did provide some evidence that corresponds to results found with human adults and infants. The dolphins did look significantly longer at the attractive compared to the unattractive faces and thus showed preferences similar to humans for individual faces. Experiment 2 did not replicate research conducted with human adults or infants with mathematically averaged face, but demonstrates mixed results in dolphin preferences for composites. These results differentially affect theories such as evolutionary theory, cognitive prototype theory, or social learning theory. Finally, problems with the current study are discussed and options for future research are provided.