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Anim Cogn. 2014 May;17(3):767-77. doi: 10.1007/s10071-013-0708-x. Epub 2013 Nov 20.

Selective attention in peacocks during predator detection.

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Duke Institute for Brain Sciences, Center for Cognitive Neuroscience, Duke University, Durham, NC, 27710, USA,


Predation can exert strong selective pressure on the evolution of behavioral and morphological traits in birds. Because predator avoidance is key to survival and birds rely heavily on visual perception, predation may have shaped avian visual systems as well. To address this question, we examined the role of visual attention in antipredator behavior in peacocks (Pavo cristatus). Peacocks were exposed to a model predator while their gaze was continuously recorded with a telemetric eye-tracker. We found that peacocks spent more time looking at and made more fixations on the predator compared to the same spatial location before the predator was revealed. The duration of fixations they directed toward conspecifics and environmental features decreased after the predator was revealed, indicating that the peacocks were rapidly scanning their environment with their eyes. Maximum eye movement amplitudes and amplitudes of consecutive saccades were similar before and after the predator was revealed. In cases where conspecifics detected the predator first, peacocks appeared to learn that danger was present by observing conspecifics' antipredator behavior. Peacocks were faster to detect the predator when they were fixating closer to the area where the predator would eventually appear. In addition, pupil size increased after predator exposure, consistent with increased physiological arousal. These findings demonstrate that peacocks selectively direct their attention toward predatory threats and suggest that predation has influenced the evolution of visual orienting systems.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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