Gris, V. N., Broche, N., Jr, Kaneko, A. et al. 2022. Investigating subtle changes in facial expression to assess acute pain in Japanese macaques. Scientific Reports 12(1), 19675.
Changes in facial expression provide cues for assessing emotional states in mammals and may provide non-verbal signals of pain. This study uses geometric morphometrics (GMM) to explore the facial shape variation in female Japanese macaques who underwent experimental laparotomy. Face image samples were collected from video footage of fourteen macaques before surgery and 1, 3, and 7 days after the procedure. Image samples in the pre-surgical condition were considered pain-free, and facial expressions emerging after surgery were investigated as potential indicators of pain. Landmarks for shape analysis were selected based on the underlying facial musculature and their corresponding facial action units and then annotated in 324 pre-surgical and 750 post-surgical images. The expression of pain is likely to vary between individuals. Tightly closed eyelids or squeezed eyes and lip tension were the most commonly observed facial changes on day 1 after surgery (p < 0.01974). A good overall inter-rater reliability [ICC = 0.99 (95% CI 0.75–1.0)] was observed with the method. The study emphasizes the importance of individualized assessment and provides a better understanding of facial cues to pain for captive macaque care.