Dragonflies Have Selective Attention Similar to Humans

First Posted: Dec 21, 2012 03:11 AM EST
Dragonflies possess a higher thought process similar to humans and other primates. (Photo:David O'Carroll, University of Adelaide)

Groundbreaking news claims that dragonflies show a high level of thought process while hunting for prey.

The new discovery presented by researchers at the University of Adelaide will be important for cognitive sciences, and robotic engineering.

Dragonfly is the only invertebrate animal which can boast of having the quality of selective attention.  This quality helps the dragonfly become more efficient and an effective predator.

This study has been conducted by Dr Steven Wiederman and associate professor David O'Carroll from the University of Adelaide's Centre for Neuroscience Research. These researchers have been cautiously analyzing the insect vision for many years.

Dragonfly has the ability to select one prey by sorting it out from the moving swarm of insects with the help of its neuron activity. According to the study, 97 percent of the time the insect gets its right.

Dr Wiederman said in a press statement, "Selective attention is fundamental to humans' ability to select and respond to one sensory stimulus in the presence of distractions."

He explained this with an example of a tennis player who has to pick a small ball travelling at a speed of 200 km per hour from the crowd. Selective attention is needed in order to hit the ball back.

But not much information is available on how this works in the biological world. And therefore, has been garnering attention from neuroscientists over recent years.

 "We've been collaborating with engineers in the US to develop motion sensing chips that mimic the algorithms that dragonflies are using.  We're putting vision chips into robots and trying to get them to fly around the lab and not hit things," The Australia quoted Professor O'Carroll.

The researchers studied a chilled dragonfly's brain activity. They tried to track how the insect reacts to single object movement and double object movement, according to The Australian.

With the help of a glass probe that consists of a tip that is just 60 nanometers,1500 times smaller than the width of the human hair, the neuron activity in the dragonfly's brain was probed.

According to Prof. O'Carroll, this is a first study of something similar to selective attention in humans shown at single neuron level in an invertebrate. We never thought of discovering something so unique in an invertebrate. In the future we might understand the underlying network of neurons and implement that into robots.

Watch Video HERE.

The study has been published in the online December 20 in the journal Current Biology.

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