Neuroscience

Perception of dangerous animals

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Science  03 Jun 2016:
Vol. 352, Issue 6290, pp. 1186-1187
DOI: 10.1126/science.352.6290.1186-d

How do we understand and evaluate other creatures? Whenever we watch animals, we don't simply recognize that they are birds or mammals. We automatically evaluate whether they could be a threat. Connolly et al. scanned people's brains while they viewed images of insects, reptiles, and mammals. Half of the animals were classified as low threat, such as ladybugs and deer, and half were high threat, such as crocodiles and wolves. Taxonomic class was represented in the lateral occipital complex, a brain region involved in object perception and recognition. However, threat was processed in the superior temporal sulcus, a region used for understanding facial expressions and deciphering others' intentions. Evaluating the intentions of a potentially threatening animal and those of another human appear to be related functions.

We may use the same part of our brain to evaluate potentially threatening animals, like this crocodile, as we do to evaluate human intentions.

PHOTO: WARWICK LISTER-KAYE/STOCKPHOTO.COM

J. Neurosci. 36, 5373 (2016).

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