Behavioral evidence and neural correlates of perceptual grouping by motion in the barn owl

Yael Zahar, Tidhar Lev-Ari, Hermann Wagner, Yoram Gutfreund

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Perceiving an object as salient from its surround often requires a preceding process of grouping the object and background elements as perceptual wholes. In humans, motion homogeneity provides a strong cue for grouping, yet it is unknown to what extent this occurs in nonprimate species. To explore this question, we studied the effects of visual motion homogeneity in barn owls of both genders, at the behavioral as well as the neural level. Our data show that the coherency of the background motion modulates the perceived saliency of the target object. An object moving in an odd direction relative to other objects attracted more attention when the other objects moved homogeneously compared with when moved in a variety of directions. A possible neural correlate of this effect may arise in the population activity of the intermediate/deep layers of the optic tectum. In these layers, the neural responses to a moving element in the receptive field were suppressed when additional elements moved in the surround. However, when the surrounding elements all moved in one direction (homogeneously moving), they induced less suppression of the response compared with nonhomogeneously moving elements. Moreover, neural responses were more sensitive to the homogeneity of the background motion than to motion-direction contrasts between the receptive field and the surround. The findings suggest similar principles of saliency-by-motion in an avian species as in humans and show a locus in the optic tectum where the underlying neural circuitry may exist.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)6653-6664
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Neuroscience
Issue number30
StatePublished - 25 Jul 2018


  • Attention
  • Avian
  • Figure-ground segregation
  • Optic tectum
  • Superior colliculus
  • Visual search

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Neuroscience


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