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PLoS One. 2016 Oct 26;11(10):e0164342. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0164342. eCollection 2016.

Breaking Snake Camouflage: Humans Detect Snakes More Accurately than Other Animals under Less Discernible Visual Conditions.

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Department of Cognitive Science, Graduate School of Information Science, Nagoya University, Chikusa-ku, Furo-cho, Nagoya, JAPAN, 464-8601.


Humans and non-human primates are extremely sensitive to snakes as exemplified by their ability to detect pictures of snakes more quickly than those of other animals. These findings are consistent with the Snake Detection Theory, which hypothesizes that as predators, snakes were a major source of evolutionary selection that favored expansion of the visual system of primates for rapid snake detection. Many snakes use camouflage to conceal themselves from both prey and their own predators, making it very challenging to detect them. If snakes have acted as a selective pressure on primate visual systems, they should be more easily detected than other animals under difficult visual conditions. Here we tested whether humans discerned images of snakes more accurately than those of non-threatening animals (e.g., birds, cats, or fish) under conditions of less perceptual information by presenting a series of degraded images with the Random Image Structure Evolution technique (interpolation of random noise). We find that participants recognize mosaic images of snakes, which were regarded as functionally equivalent to camouflage, more accurately than those of other animals under dissolved conditions. The present study supports the Snake Detection Theory by showing that humans have a visual system that accurately recognizes snakes under less discernible visual conditions.

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