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Robert F. van der Willigen; Owls see in stereo much like humans do. Journal of Vision 2011;11(7):10. doi: https://doi.org/10.1167/11.7.10.
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© ARVO (1962-2015); The Authors (2016-present)
While 3D experiences through binocular disparity sensitivity have acquired special status in the understanding of human stereo vision, much remains to be learned about how binocularity is put to use in animals. The owl provides an exceptional model to study stereo vision as it displays one of the highest degrees of binocular specialization throughout the animal kingdom. In a series of six behavioral experiments, equivalent to hallmark human psychophysical studies, I compiled an extensive body of stereo performance data from two trained owls. Computer-generated, binocular random-dot patterns were used to ensure pure stereo performance measurements. In all cases, I found that owls perform much like humans do, viz.: (1) disparity alone can evoke figure–ground segmentation; (2) selective use of “relative” rather than “absolute” disparity; (3) hyperacute sensitivity; (4) disparity processing allows for the avoidance of monocular feature detection prior to object recognition; (5) large binocular disparities are not tolerated; (6) disparity guides the perceptual organization of 2D shape. The robustness and very nature of these binocular disparity-based perceptual phenomena bear out that owls, like humans, exploit the third dimension to facilitate early figure–ground segmentation of tangible objects.
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