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Infants Can See Image Differences That Adults Cannot, Study Finds

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Babies may be able to see image details that are invisible or imperceptible to adults. According to a recent study [PDF] from Japanese scientists Jiale Yang, So Kanazawa, Masami K. Yamaguchi, and Isamu Motoyoshi, three- and four-month-old infants may view certain images differently because they lack perceptual constancy. That means they can see small image differences that are invisible to adults because of changes in lighting conditions.

For example, when adults see the same objects in different lighting, their brains automatically adjust to those lighting conditions. If your friend steps in front of a blue spotlight, they might appear blue, but you still recognize them. That’s perceptual constancy in action: Your brain recognizes that, though your friend is bathed in blue light, they aren’t suddenly a totally different blue person. Young babies who haven’t yet developed perceptual constancy, meanwhile, are able to see subtle images differences that adults ignore, but may be unable to recognize the same objects in different light.

In the study, 42 babies between three and eight months old looked at images rendered from 3D objects like snails and teapots. Since the babies were pre-verbal, scientists tracked their eye movements to determine how they interacted with the images. According to Scientific American, previous studies have shown that infants spend more time looking at new objects than those they’ve seen before, so the scientists in the study measured infant recognition of different objects by recording how long they looked at each image. They found that infants up to four months old recognized image differences caused by changes in illumination that weren’t visible to adult viewers. At five months old, however, the infants lost that ability, and by seven or eight months, began to develop perceptual constancy.

In the above image, for example, adults generally see snails A and B as the most similar because of their glossy finish. In reality, B and C are most similar with regards to pixel intensity—a characteristic that three- and four-month-old infants recognized.

According to the scientists, “These findings support the notion that acquiring perceptual constancy leads to a loss of sensitivity to variant information, which is negligible for constant surface material perception.”

That is, as we develop, we lose the ability to see certain information, but that loss makes it easier for us to understand the world around us. As Scientific American explains, “The loss of sensitivity to variant information that we all experienced as babies created an unbreachable gap between us and the physical world. At the same time, it served to tune our perception to our environment, allowing us to navigate it efficiently and successfully.”

[h/t: Scientific American]

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Trying to Save Money? Avoid Shopping on a Smartphone
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Today, Americans do most of their shopping online—but as anyone who’s indulged in late-night retail therapy likely knows, this convenience often can come with an added cost. Trying to curb expenses, but don't want to swear off the convenience of ordering groceries in your PJs? New research shows that shopping on a desktop computer instead of a mobile phone may help you avoid making foolish purchases, according to Co. Design. Ying Zhu, a marketing professor at the University of British Columbia-Okanagan, recently led a study to measure how touchscreen technology affects consumer behavior. Published in the Journal of Retailing and Consumer Services, her research found that people are more likely to make more frivolous, impulsive purchases if they’re shopping on their phones than if they’re facing a computer monitor. Zhu, along with study co-author Jeffrey Meyer of Bowling Green State University, ran a series of lab experiments on student participants to observe how different electronic devices affected shoppers’ thinking styles and intentions. Their aim was to see if subjects' purchasing goals changed when it came to buying frivolous things, like chocolate or massages, or more practical things, like food or office supplies. In one experiment, participants were randomly assigned to use a desktop or a touchscreen. Then, they were presented with an offer to purchase either a frivolous item (a $50 restaurant certificate for $30) or a useful one (a $50 grocery certificate for $30). These subjects used a three-point scale to gauge how likely they were to purchase the offer, and they also evaluated how practical or frivolous each item was. (Participants rated the restaurant certificate to be more indulgent than the grocery certificate.) Sure enough, the researchers found that participants had "significantly higher" purchase intentions for hedonic (i.e. pleasurable) products when buying on touchscreens than on desktops, according to the study. On the flip side, participants had significantly higher purchase intentions for utilitarian (i.e. practical) products while using desktops instead of touchscreens. "The playful and fun nature of the touchscreen enhances consumers' favor of hedonic products; while the logical and functional nature of a desktop endorses the consumers' preference for utilitarian products," Zhu explains in a press release. The study also found that participants using touchscreen technology scored significantly higher on "experiential thinking" than subjects using desktop computers, whereas those with desktop computers demonstrated higher scores for rational thinking. “When you’re in an experiential thinking mode, [you crave] excitement, a different experience,” Zhu explained to Co. Design. “When you’re on the desktop, with all the work emails, that interface puts you into a rational thinking style. While you’re in a rational thinking style, when you assess a product, you’ll look for something with functionality and specific uses.” Zhu’s advice for consumers looking to conserve cash? Stow away the smartphone when you’re itching to splurge on a guilty pleasure. [h/t Fast Company]
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Animals
Elusive Butterfly Sighted in Scotland for the First Time in 133 Years

Conditions weren’t looking too promising for the white-letter hairstreak, an elusive butterfly that’s native to the UK. Threatened by habitat loss, the butterfly's numbers have dwindled by 96 percent since the 1970s, and the insect hasn’t even been spotted in Scotland since 1884. So you can imagine the surprise lepidopterists felt when a white-letter hairstreak was seen feeding in a field in Berwickshire, Scotland earlier in August, according to The Guardian.

A man named Iain Cowe noticed the butterfly and managed to capture it on camera. “It is not every day that something as special as this is found when out and about on a regular butterfly foray,” Cowe said in a statement provided by the UK's Butterfly Conservation. “It was a very ragged and worn individual found feeding on ragwort in the grassy edge of an arable field.”

The white-letter hairstreak is a small brown butterfly with a white “W”-shaped streak on the underside of its wings and a small orange spot on its hindwings. It’s not easily sighted, as it tends to spend most of its life feeding and breeding in treetops.

The butterfly’s preferred habitat is the elm tree, but an outbreak of Dutch elm disease—first noted the 1970s—forced the white-letter hairstreak to find new homes and food sources as millions of Britain's elm trees died. The threatened species has slowly spread north, and experts are now hopeful that Scotland could be a good home for the insect. (Dutch elm disease does exist in Scotland, but the nation also has a good amount of disease-resistant Wych elms.)

If a breeding colony is confirmed, the white-letter hairstreak will bump Scotland’s number of butterfly species that live and breed in the country up to 34. “We don’t have many butterfly species in Scotland so one more is very nice to have,” Paul Kirkland, director of Butterfly Conservation Scotland, said in a statement.

Prior to 1884, the only confirmed sighting of a white-letter hairstreak in Scotland was in 1859. However, the insect’s newfound presence in Scotland comes at a cost: The UK’s butterflies are moving north due to climate change, and the white-letter hairstreak’s arrival is “almost certainly due to the warming climate,” Kirkland said.

[h/t The Guardian]

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