We Are Hardwired to Pay Attention to Animals

by | Feb 6, 2018


Even 150 after the beginning of the industrial revolution and thousands of years since we have moved from being hunter-gathers to an agrarian society, as a species we are still hardwired to notice animals over most other objects.  It is theorized that this sensitivity to animals is because back in the day noticing and monitoring predators and/or prey could be a matter of life and death.  Those individuals who could more quickly and effectively notice animals we’re more likely to survive.

Proof of this was found in a study where researchers rapidly flashed photographs of various scenes at volunteers.  The photos were shown in pairs that were identical except for a change to a single object.

The volunteers were substantially more accurate at detecting alterations involving animals than inanimate objects.  This was true even if the animals were small, peripheral and blended into the background.  In fact, the volunteers were far more adept at noticing animals than they were cars and minivans. This is telling because for about 100 years being hit by a car has been a much bigger threat for most people than being eaten by a bear or starving for a lack of finding enough bunnies to hunt.

Thus, the visual priorities of our hunter-gatherer ancestors evidently remain front and center in our supposedly modern brains.

Subsequent research at Caltech has discovered the physiological reason for this. They found individual brain cells that respond when a person sees an animal, but not when that person sees another person, a place, or an object. These special brain cells are found in the amygdala, a part of the brain responsible for many emotions, including fear.

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