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Dangerous animals capture and maintain attention in humans.


Predation is a major source of natural selection on primates and may have shaped attentional processes that allow primates to rapidly detect dangerous animals. Because ancestral humans were subjected to predation, a process that continues at very low frequencies, we examined the visual processes by which men and women detect dangerous animals (snakes and lions). We recorded the eye movements of participants as they detected images of a dangerous animal (target) among arrays of nondangerous animals (distractors) as well as detected images of a nondangerous animal (target) among arrays of dangerous animals (distractors). We found that participants were quicker to locate targets when the targets were dangerous animals compared with nondangerous animals, even when spatial frequency and luminance were controlled. The participants were slower to locate nondangerous targets because they spent more time looking at dangerous distractors, a process known as delayed disengagement, and looked at a larger number of dangerous distractors. These results indicate that dangerous animals capture and maintain attention in humans, suggesting that historical predation has shaped some facets of visual orienting and its underlying neural architecture in modern humans.

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