Wednesday, April 22, 2009

A bird that follows human eye movements.

Interesting observations from von Bayern and Emery. They offered food to hand-raised jackdaws. The birds took longer to nab a proffered nibble if the food was the subject of a stranger's stare, and they seemed to be watching the eyes rather than the direction of the head (see variations of head and eye attitudes, pictured). In a separate experiment, the birds needed moving, rather than static, eye signals from a familiar person to understand communication about the location of hidden food. They speculate that jackdaws evolved this eye-following ability to interact with one another. However, they add that the birds followed by the study have spent their whole lives with humans.:
Humans communicate their intentions and disposition using their eyes, whereas the communicative function of eyes in animals is less clear. Many species show aversive reactions to eyes, and several species gain information from conspecifics' gaze direction by automatically co-orienting with them. However, most species show little sensitivity to more subtle indicators of attention than head orientation and have difficulties using such cues in a cooperative context. Recently, some species have been found responsive to gaze direction in competitive situations. We investigated the sensitivity of jackdaws, pair-bonded social corvids that exhibit an analogous eye morphology to humans, to subtle attentional and communicative cues in two contexts and paradigms. In a conflict paradigm, we measured the birds' latency to retrieve food in front of an unfamiliar or familiar human, depending on the state and orientation of their eyes toward food. In a cooperative paradigm, we tested whether the jackdaws used familiar human's attentional or communicative cues to locate hidden food. Jackdaws were sensitive to human attentional states in the conflict situation but only responded to communicative cues in the cooperative situation. These findings may be the result of a natural tendency to attend to conspecifics' eyes or the effect of intense human contact during socialization.

1 comment:

  1. Deric: As I remember nonverbal research, humans communicate intentions with their face, not their eyes. A quibble, but perhaps of value.