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J Exp Biol. 2017 Mar 15;220(Pt 6):1146-1153. doi: 10.1242/jeb.150946.

Selective attention in peacocks during assessment of rival males.

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Department of Wildlife and Fisheries Sciences, Texas A&M University, College Station, TX 77843, USA
Duke Institute for Brain Sciences and Center for Cognitive Neuroscience, Duke University, Durham, NC 27710, USA.
Department of Evolution and Ecology, University of California, Davis, CA 95616, USA.
Bloomberg L.P., 731 Lexington Ave, New York, NY 10022, USA.
Department of Neuroscience, Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA 19104, USA.
Department of Psychology, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA 19104, USA.
Marketing Department, Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA 19104, USA.


Males in many species compete intensely for access to females. In order to minimize costly interactions, they can assess their rivals' competitive abilities by evaluating traits and behaviors. We know little about how males selectively direct their attention to make these assessments. Using Indian peafowl (Pavo cristatus) as a model system, we examined how males visually assess their competitors by continuously tracking the gaze of freely moving peacocks during the mating season. When assessing rivals, peacocks selectively gazed toward the lower display regions of their rivals, including the lower eyespot and fishtail feathers, dense feathers, body and wings. Their attention was modified based on the rivals' behavior such that they spent more time looking at rivals when rivals were shaking their wings and moving. The results indicate that peacocks selectively allocate their attention during rival assessment. The gaze patterns of males assessing rivals were largely similar to those of females evaluating mates, suggesting that some male traits serve a dual function in both intra- and intersexual selection. However, males spent more time than females looking at the upper eyespots and this could indicate that the upper eyespots function more in close-up rival assessment than mate choice.


Attention; Communication; Pavo cristatus; Sexual selection; Vision

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