Selective attention, the prioritization of behaviorally relevant stimuli for behavioral control, is commonly divided into two processes: bottom-up, stimulus-driven selection and top-down, task-driven selection. Here, we tested two barn owls in a visual search task that examines attentional capture of the top-down task by bottom-up mechanisms. We trained barn owls to search for a vertical Gabor patch embedded in a circular array of differently oriented Gabor distractors (top-down guided search). To track the point of gaze, a lightweight wireless video camera was mounted on the owl’s head. Three experiments were conducted in which the owls were tested in the following conditions: (1) five distractors; (2) nine distractors; (3) five distractors with one distractor surrounded by a red circle; or (4) five distractors with a brief sound at the initiation of the stimulus. Search times and number of head saccades to reach the target were measured and compared between the different conditions. It was found that search time and number of saccades to the target increased when the number of distractors was larger (condition 2) and when an additional irrelevant salient stimulus, auditory or visual, was added to the scene (conditions 3 and 4). These results demonstrate that in barn owls, bottom-up attention interacts with top-down attention to shape behavior in ways similar to human attentional capture. The findings suggest similar attentional principles in taxa that have been evolutionarily separated for 300 million years.
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The authors would like to thank Yael Zahar for technical and graphical support. We would also like to thank Prof. Herman Wagner and Julius Orlowski from Aachen University for their support in constructing the headcam for barn owls.
This study was funded by Grants to Yoram Gutfreund from the Israel Science Foundation, the Adelis Foundation and the Rappaport Institute research grant.
Compliance with ethical standards
Conflict of interest
The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.
All applicable international, national, and/or institutional guidelines for the care and use of animals were followed. All procedures performed in studies involving animals were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institution or practice at which the studies were conducted.
Human and animal rights
This article does not contain any studies with human participants performed by any of the authors.
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