Our work on a finite element model of the skull of Macaca aims to investigate the functional significance of specific features of primate skulls and to determine to which of the input variables (elastic properties, muscle forces) the model behavior is most sensitive. Estimates of muscle forces acting on the model are derived from estimates of physiological cross-sectional areas (PCSAs) of the jaw muscles scaled by relative electromyographic (EMG) amplitudes recorded in vivo. In this study, the behavior of the model was measured under different assumptions regarding the PCSAs of the jaw muscles and the latency between EMG activity in those muscles and the resulting force production. Thirty-six different loading regimes were applied to the model using four different PCSA sets and nine different PCSA scaling parameters. The four PCSA sets were derived from three different macaque species and one genus average, and the scaling parameters were either EMGs from 10, 20, 30, 40, 50 and 60 msec prior to peak bite force, or simply 100%, 50%, or 25% of peak muscle force. Principal coordinates analysis was used to compare the deformations of the model produced by the 36 loading regimes. Strain data from selected sites on the model were also compared with in vivo bone strain data. The results revealed that when varying the external muscle forces within these boundaries, the majority of the variation in model behavior is attributable to variation in the overall magnitude rather than the relative amount of muscle force generated by each muscle. Once this magnitude-related variation in model deformation was accounted for, significant variation was attributable to differences in relative muscle recruitment between working and balancing sides. Strain orientations at selected sites showed little variation across loading experiments compared with variation documented in vivo. These data suggest that in order to create an accurate and valid finite element model of the behavior of the primate skull at a particular instant during feeding, it is important to include estimates of the relative recruitment levels of the masticatory muscles. However, a lot can be learned about patterns of skull deformation, in fossil species for example, by applying external forces proportional to the estimated relative PCSAs of the jaw adductors. © 2005 Wiley-Liss, Inc.