Small animals see the world in slow motion, or why your puppy is so hyperactive
New research indicates that smaller animals, such as birds, dogs, and human children, perceive the world at a higher frame rate than the rest of us. As a result, these smaller animals may live life in a permanent state of Matrix-like bullet time, where everything around them appears to be moving in slow motion. This is explained evolutionarily by the need for smaller animals and insects to avoid larger, but slower, predators.
This perceptual difference, according to research by Trinity College Dublin (TCD), is caused by the differing “maximum rate of temporal information processing in the visual system.” As you’re probably aware, the human visual system has a fairly slow rate, capable of perceiving around 10 individual images per second, with perception of change extending to around 100 fps. According to the TCD researchers, animals with smaller bodies and higher metabolic rates have a higher rate, with the inverse also being true.
To test this theory, the researchers used a technique called critical flicker fusion frequency. As the name suggests, this technique increases the frequency of a flickering light until the visual system perceives a solid, constant light. The researchers tested more than 30 species, from cats, to lizards, to turtles, and found a strong correlation between body size, metabolic rate, and perception of temporal information. According to io9, the researchers found that the visual system of flies is more than four times faster than humans — while a huge leatherback turtle, which has a very slow metabolism, has a visual system four times slower than humans. (See: The eyes have it: Seeing ultraviolet, exploring color.)
In other words, a fly, or another small animal like a squirrel, essentially perceives the world like a human perceives footage from a high-speed camera. To a small animal, most of the world would appear to happen in slow motion. In the eyes of our pet dog or canary, we probably appear to be lumbering giants. Their normal everyday activities, though, such as running around manically or catching fast-moving prey, would appear to happen at normal speed — much in the same way that a human is happy to walk around relatively slowly, gets very bored waiting for a turtle to do stuff.
This difference in temporal information processing is most easily observable if you take a look at a small animal, such as a small bird, which — to our senses — is highly twitchy and spasmodic. Even small dogs, kittens, and human children appear to be more manic/hyperactive compared to their larger or full-grown siblings. To them, though, they aren’t moving quickly — they’re moving at their normal, relaxed pace. As an animal grows up, its physical size increases, and its metabolic rate slows, their visual rate seems to slow. This would neatly explain why human children, and puppies, always seem to be in a rush.
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