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Animal Attention

October 22, 2007

Humans may be hard-wired to pay attention to animals, according to a new study.


Why we’re better at spotting bears than Buicks. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Our prehistoric ancestors were constantly watching for animals to either hunt or avoid. This knack for spotting animals persists even today, according to a study from the University of California at Santa Barbara. The researchers showed people pairs of similar pictures that switched rapidly back and forth on a computer screen. Evolutionary psychologist Joshua New, now at Yale, says this makes it hard to notice seemingly obvious differences between the pictures.

It’s a little bit unnerving to see them staring at a picture where an entire grain silo is actually disappearing and reappearing, and in many cases the subjects just decided there’s no change at all.

Yet the volunteers spotted changes involving people or animals much more easily– suggesting that we may be hard-wired to notice them. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.