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Basic features, conjunctive searches, and the confusion effect in predator–prey interactions

Lookup NU author(s): Dr Colin Tosh


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The confusion effect describes the observeddecrease in the likelihood that a predator will successfullycatch any prey when attacking larger groups of movingprey. We introduce readers to the work of cognitivepsychologists interested in human visual attention whohave been studying their own version of the confusioneffect for many years, developing methods and conceptsthat may be of fundamental utility to behavioral ecologists.In psychology, ‘basic features’ are characteristics unique toa target object in the visual field that no distracter objectsshare. Images containing targets with basic features areoften less likely to induce the confusion effect in humansubjects. Target objects with conjunctions of features, onthe other hand, have no individual characteristics uniquefrom distracters, but unique characteristics in combination.Such targets more often induce the confusion effect inhumans. We propose the ‘basic feature’ (vs. conjunctions offeatures) as a new organizing concept for studies on theoccurrence of the confusion effect in nature, potentiallyallowing predictions about which types of prey groups arelikely to induce the confusion effect in predators.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Tosh CR, Krause J, Ruxton GD

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology

Year: 2009

Volume: 63

Issue: 3

Pages: 473-475

ISSN (print): 0340-5443

ISSN (electronic): 1432-0762

Publisher: Springer


DOI: 10.1007/s00265-008-0667-4


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