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Dragonflies Have Human-Like Selective Attention: Study

Dec 21, 2012 03:22 AM EST

A new study finds that dragonflies have higher-levels of selective thought process when they hunt their prey.

Reseachers Steven Wiederman and David O'Carroll from the University of Adelaide's Center for Neuroscience Research, Australia, have been studying dragonflies for years. They found that dragonflies have selective attention just like humans.

The researchers placed a live dragonfly, chilled in a fridge, in front of a computer screen in order to track the insect's brain. The fly was exposed to a single object as well as multiple objects so as to study its reaction to the objects and compare them, according to a report in The Australian.

Using a small glass globe with a 60 nanometers wide tip (1500 times smaller than the width of a human hair), researchers discovered that the neuron activity in the dragonfly's brain allowed selective attention.

They found that the dragonfly, when presented with more than one visual target, selected a particular target and avoided other targets as if they didn't exist.

"The dragonfly hunts for other insects, and these might be part of a swarm - they're all tiny moving objects. Once the dragonfly selected a target, its neuron activity filters out all other potential prey. The dragonfly then swoops in on its prey - they get it right 97 percent of the time," Dr Wiederman said in a statement.

Selective attention is a basic skill in humans to help them select and respond to one particular target when exposed to a number of objects. Until now, selective attention has been demonstrated only in primates. This new study establishes first evidence that an invertebrate, like a dragonfly, has brain cells for human-like selective attention.

"What's exciting for us is that this is the first direct demonstration of something akin to selective attention in humans shown at the single neuron level in an invertebrate," said O'Carroll.

O'Carroll and Wiederman hope the study will help in understanding the network of neurons, as dragonflies' brains are simple and easy to access. They could be used as a model system to build intelligent robots, researchers said.

The findings of the study appear in the journal Current Biology.

Check video below demonstrating that dragonflies have selective attention. The video is posted by researchers from the University of Adelaide.

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