copy-paste from Null-Hypothesis , which dubs itself as The Journal of Unlikely Science. It came to me through the facebook group We're scientists AND we're sexy! Ok, I admit, I am a member of it. Yeah, right. Me. Sexy. Ouch! It Hurts.
I Tawt I Taw A Puddy Tat
By Jamie LawsonScientists in California have been busy flashing images at people again. This is a favourite game of psychophysicists the world over, being a nice way of measuring reaction times to... well, Visual Things. This time they’ve been looking to see if people pay more attention to evolutionarily salient objects like lions and impala rather than novelties like cars, tables and lamps.
The result will come as no surprise to the evolutionary psychologists in the crowd. When presented with pairs of images, each flashed rapidly and identical except for a tiny change, participants were much faster and more accurate at identifying changes involving animals (including humans) than those involving your aforementioned inanimate things, even if the animal was hardly visible at all. This also held true when a failure to notice the inanimate object in the scenes would normally be associated with sudden and messy death, such as is the case with cars.
The explanation? Well, back in the day, humans would have benefited from attention to things that they could hunt and eat (like impala) as well as to things that could eat them (like lions) and things that may have filled both categories (like... each other). Humans who ignored these objects moving about would presumably have died from either a) starvation or b) being killed and/or eaten, so a tendency to attend to animate objects became hardwired in to the human visual system. Things like cars, although life threatening, are just far too modern to have been incorporated.
So, the good news is that you are very likely to spot a big cat as it sneaks up on you with every intention of making you its lunch. Sadly, in moving to avoid it, you may just end up being crushed beneath the wheels of a bus you have entirely failed to notice. Ah well, swings and roundabouts, eh?