With Chipmunk Vision, There’s More Than Meets the Eye

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If you could see the world through the eyes of a chipmunk, things would look not only a lot bigger but also a whole lot slower, according to a new study published in the journal Animal Behaviour. A team of researchers in Ireland and Scotland used high-speed stroboscopic lights to determine what’s called “critical flicker fusion frequency,” the speed at which the eye can determine the difference between rapid flashes and continuous light. What they discovered is that smaller animals with faster metabolisms, like chipmunks, process visual information with such speed and detail that they’re seeing the world, in effect, in slow motion. When they glimpse the shadow of a hawk, their ability to slip past grasping talons is a matter of life and death. The study also shows differences in humans. Younger people and athletes react more quickly than older, more sedentary types, but young, athletic Formula One drivers and fighter pilots are already pushing the edge of the envelope, says Andrew Jackson, a co-author of the report. Improving on their performance would take computers, drugs, or implants of some sort, Jackson told the BBC. And even then, there would be the question of how fast their brains could assimilate what they saw.

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