Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Animal brains ’hard-wired’ to recognize predator’s foot movements

’Life detector’ could be part of evolutionary old system, say researchers

The reason people can approach animals in the wild more easily from a car than by foot may be due to an innate "life detector" tuned to the visual movements of an approaching predator’s feet, says Queen’s University psychologist Niko Troje.

"We believe this visual filter is used to signal the presence of animals that are propelled by the motion of their feet and the force of gravity," suggests Dr. Troje, Canada Research Chair in Vision and Behavioural Sciences.

Conducted with Dr. Cord Westhoff from the Ruhr-Universität Bochum in Germany, the study was funded by the Canada Foundation for Innovation and the German Volkswagen Foundation. It will be published on-line April 18 in the international journal Current Biology.

The researchers suggest this low level locomotion detector is part of an evolutionary old system that helps animals detect quickly – even on the periphery of their visual field – whether a potential predator or prey is nearby. "Research on newly hatched chicks suggests that it works from very early on in an animal’s development," says Dr. Troje. "It seems like their brains are ’hard wired’ for this type of recognition."

One impetus for starting this research several years ago was a question by his young daughter, who asked him why she could get so much closer to wild rabbits in their neighborhood while riding on her bicycle rather than on foot. "I didn’t have an answer for her then. Now, I think I have one," he says.

Dr. Troje’s Motion Capture Laboratory at Queen’s uses high speed cameras to track the three-dimensional trajectories of small reflective markers attached to the central joints of a person’s body. When the subject moves, these seemingly unstructured white marker dots become organized into meaningful images, from which observers can determine the gender, body build, emotional state, and other attributes.

In this study, Dr. Troje’s team used "point-light sequence" videos to display the electronically captured motion of cats, pigeons and humans. People were tested on whether they could tell the direction of movement when these cues were changed.

Scrambling the dots didn’t create a problem, but when the image was inverted, observers were unable to say if the animal was moving to the right or left. The researchers conclude that foot movement is an independent, important visual cue that another animal is nearby.

"The observation that it is relatively easy to get close to wild animals in a car, a canoe, or a similar vehicle might be due to the absence of the typical movement of the feet," says Dr. Troje. Similarly, the creeping movement of a hunting cat can be interpreted in terms of disguising the ballistic component in its locomotion, he adds.

"Our finding might also provide an explanation for seemingly irrational phobias towards animals that don’t fit the ballistic movement pattern of a proposed ’life detector’," he says. "Snakes, insects and spiders, or birds can generate pathological reactions not observed in response to ’normal’ animals."

Nancy Dorrance | EurekAlert!
Further information:

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Gene therapy shows promise for treating Niemann-Pick disease type C1
27.10.2016 | NIH/National Human Genome Research Institute

nachricht 'Neighbor maps' reveal the genome's 3-D shape
27.10.2016 | International School of Advanced Studies (SISSA)

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Etching Microstructures with Lasers

Ultrafast lasers have introduced new possibilities in engraving ultrafine structures, and scientists are now also investigating how to use them to etch microstructures into thin glass. There are possible applications in analytics (lab on a chip) and especially in electronics and the consumer sector, where great interest has been shown.

This new method was born of a surprising phenomenon: irradiating glass in a particular way with an ultrafast laser has the effect of making the glass up to a...

Im Focus: Light-driven atomic rotations excite magnetic waves

Terahertz excitation of selected crystal vibrations leads to an effective magnetic field that drives coherent spin motion

Controlling functional properties by light is one of the grand goals in modern condensed matter physics and materials science. A new study now demonstrates how...

Im Focus: New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to reality

Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.

"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...

Im Focus: Scientists develop a semiconductor nanocomposite material that moves in response to light

In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.

A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...

Im Focus: Diamonds aren't forever: Sandia, Harvard team create first quantum computer bridge

By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.

"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

Agricultural Trade Developments and Potentials in Central Asia and the South Caucasus

14.10.2016 | Event News

World Health Summit – Day Three: A Call to Action

12.10.2016 | Event News

Latest News

How nanoscience will improve our health and lives in the coming years

27.10.2016 | Materials Sciences

OU-led team discovers rare, newborn tri-star system using ALMA

27.10.2016 | Physics and Astronomy

'Neighbor maps' reveal the genome's 3-D shape

27.10.2016 | Life Sciences

More VideoLinks >>>