Through a barn owl’s eyes: interactions between scene content and visual attention
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- Ohayon, S., Harmening, W., Wagner, H. et al. Biol Cybern (2008) 98: 115. doi:10.1007/s00422-007-0199-4
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In this study we investigated visual attention properties of freely behaving barn owls, using a miniature wireless camera attached to their heads. The tubular eye structure of barn owls makes them ideal subjects for this research since it limits their eye movements. Video sequences recorded from the owl’s point of view capture part of the visual scene as seen by the owl. Automated analysis of video sequences revealed that during an active search task, owls repeatedly and consistently direct their gaze in a way that brings objects of interest to a specific retinal location (retinal fixation area). Using a projective model that captures the geometry between the eye and the camera, we recovered the corresponding location in the recorded images (image fixation area). Recording in various types of environments (aviary, office, outdoors) revealed significant statistical differences of low level image properties at the image fixation area compared to values extracted at random image patches. These differences are in agreement with results obtained in primates in similar studies. To investigate the role of saliency and its contribution to drawing the owl’s attention, we used a popular bottom-up computational model. Saliency values at the image fixation area were typically greater than at random patches, yet were only 20% out of the maximal saliency value, suggesting a top-down modulation of gaze control.