News Release

Owls see as humans do

Humans and birds may be more similar than previously thought

Peer-Reviewed Publication

Society for Neuroscience

Static Distractors

video: An example of owl DK spontaneously observing the computer screen. The target is embedded in a static array of distractors (singleton). The left panel shows a frontal view of the owl and the right panel the corresponding headcam view. The red circle in the right panel designates the functional fovea. The color of the circle changes to green when it is on target. view more 

Credit: Yael et al., <i>JNeurosci</i> (2018)

A study of barn owls published in JNeurosci suggests the visual systems of humans and birds may be more similar than previously thought.

The ability to perceive an object as distinct from a background is crucial for species that rely on vision to act on their environment. One way humans achieve this is by grouping different elements of a scene into "perceptual wholes" based on the similarity of their motion. This phenomenon has been mostly studied in primates, leaving open the question of whether such perceptual grouping represents a fundamental property of visual systems in general.

Yoram Gutfreund and colleagues addressed this question by studying the brain and behavior of barn owls as the animals tracked dark dots on a gray background presented on a computer screen. A wireless "Owl-Cam" tracked the owls' visual search behavior in one set of experiments while neural activity in the optic tectum -- the main visual processor in non-mammalian vertebrates -- was recorded in another. The researchers indeed report evidence of perceptual grouping in the owl, suggesting that this ability evolved and was conserved across species prior to the development of the human neocortex.


Article: Behavioral evidence and neural correlates of perceptual grouping by motion in the barn owl
Corresponding author: Yoram Gutfreund (The Rappaport Faculty of Medicine, Technion, Haifa, Israel),

About JNeurosci

JNeurosci, the Society for Neuroscience's first journal, was launched in 1981 as a means to communicate the findings of the highest quality neuroscience research to the growing field. Today, the journal remains committed to publishing cutting-edge neuroscience that will have an immediate and lasting scientific impact, while responding to authors' changing publishing needs, representing breadth of the field and diversity in authorship.

About The Society for Neuroscience

The Society for Neuroscience is the world's largest organization of scientists and physicians devoted to understanding the brain and nervous system. The nonprofit organization, founded in 1969, now has nearly 37,000 members in more than 90 countries and over 130 chapters worldwide.

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