Event Abstract

Visual search and orientation saliency in barn owls

  • 1 RWTH Aachen University, Department of Zoology and Animal Physiology, Germany

Animals have only limited computational resources to process sensory information. Attention is the process which selects the most vital information to be processed first. Much of this process is understood in humans and primates. Attentional mechanisms direct the gaze to salient objects, while other visible information is apparently discarded. However, it is unclear whether and to what extend these mechanisms exist in non-primate species. Our particular interest is visual saliency based on orientation contrast, a perceptual product attributed to the functional organization of the mammalian brain. We study these processes in barn owls. Barn owls have frontally oriented eyes with a large binocular field of view. Their eyes are rigid; eye movements are limited to less than 2° due to the tubular shape of the owls’ eyes. Therefore, owls need to move their head to look at visual targets. Due to this fact, we can track the owls gaze with a single, head mounted microcamera: the Owlcam and devise simple experiments to analyze orientation salience in these animals. We confronted barn owls with open field scenes of different set sizes containing one target differing from similar distractors in orientation, without giving them an explicit task. The free viewing barn owls looked significantly longer, more often, and earlier at the target object compared to the distracters, thus displaying parallels to human and primate overt search behavior in bottom-up search tasks. As a next step we task them to search for the target item to determine whether barn owls have a popout effect similar to primates. If that is the case, search performance should be similar regardless of the set size. This would indicate that orientation saliency and visual search processes are similarly optimized in many species, despite differences in phylogeny and the structure of visual pathways brain anatomy.

Keywords: animal vision, feature map, Owlcam, Pop-out, Saccades, visual behavior

Conference: Tenth International Congress of Neuroethology, College Park. Maryland USA, United States, 5 Aug - 10 Aug, 2012.

Presentation Type: Invited Symposium (only for people who have been invited to a particular symposium)

Topic: Sensory: Vision

Citation: Orlowski J and Wagner H (2012). Visual search and orientation saliency in barn owls. Conference Abstract: Tenth International Congress of Neuroethology. doi: 10.3389/conf.fnbeh.2012.27.00021

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Received: 20 Apr 2012; Published Online: 07 Jul 2012.

* Correspondence: Mr. Julius Orlowski, RWTH Aachen University, Department of Zoology and Animal Physiology, Aachen, Germany, Julius@bio2.rwth-aachen.de