Thursday, October 18, 2007

The Human Visual System is Tuned for Animals

From this PNAS article: Category-specific attention for animals reflects ancestral priorities, not expertise
Visual attention mechanisms are known to select information to process based on current goals, personal relevance, and lower-level features. Here we present evidence that human visual attention also includes a high-level category-specialized system that monitors animals in an ongoing manner. Exposed to alternations between complex natural scenes and duplicates with a single change (a change-detection paradigm), subjects are substantially faster and more accurate at detecting changes in animals relative to changes in all tested categories of inanimate objects, even vehicles, which they have been trained for years to monitor for sudden life-or-death changes in trajectory. This animate monitoring bias could not be accounted for by differences in lower-level visual characteristics, how interesting the target objects were, experience, or expertise, implicating mechanisms that evolved to direct attention differentially to objects by virtue of their membership in ancestrally important categories, regardless of their current utility.

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