Wednesday, January 23, 2008

"Evolution explains why lolcats control your mind"

There was a study showing that, basically, we pay more acute visual attention to images of animals than we do to images of inanimate objects.

The authors of the study conclude that the reason we do so is because our ancestors would have needed to be more aware of other living creatures--for hunting and escaping purposes--than for things that aren't alive.

Okay, that doesn't sound too implausible, but it simply doesn't follow; additional evidence would be needed to help pin down exactly what it is we're reacting to and how. I'm skeptical.

As predicted, subjects were faster and more accurate detecting changes involving animals than inanimate objects. If experience were producing this bias, then people should also be good at detecting changes involving automobiles, which as drivers and pedestrians they have been trained all their lives to monitor for sudden, life-or-death changes in trajectory. Yet subjects were much slower in detecting changes to vehicles than to more rarely experienced animal species, indicating that learning is not the source of this difference.

1) Cars don't move and change the way animals do. These would have to be still images, too, and you would see any potentially dangerous car moving, and likely pay attention to its general presence, its motion, etc., than to changes in its features. I wonder what exactly the "changes" were for the car images.
2) We are animals. We empathize more and have more interest in things like us, with faces, movement, behavior, etc. This could also explain greater interest. Studies have shown that babies show much more interest in images that vaguely resemble faces, for instance, than for other images. We're attuned to ascertain things about behavior from cues like that.

That potentially could fit into the authors' hypothesis, that the reason we're more interested is that it's important to our survival to notice shit about animals' behavior (including humans). But anyway, the argument is just not all there, and it's too bad, because there's some interesting stuff involved.

What's great about this research is that it inadvertently targeted exactly what's happening in lolcat images: the animal has been changed from being just a regular cute kitty, to being a cute kitty with special attributes created by the caption. So a lolcat is an animal image with "a single change."

I don't see how this is relevant, since people generally aren't looking at the image of the cat, then the image plus the caption. They're not reacting to a "change" in the image from a previous state.

Also, I'm not sure exactly what the images in the study were like, but I somehow doubt that the kind of "changes" to the image involved text suddenly being put over them.

It would actually be really interesting to study people's reaction to image, text, and image + text, though.

Someone do that study. With both literate and non-literate people.

Also, I find lolcats dumb and annoying. Anyone else? I'd like some solidarity here, please. Or should I say, im in ur blog, hating ur lolcats.

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