一项新的研究表明,跟随某人的目光到最初受损位置的能力,称为视觉透视,可能起源于恐龙谱系,早于它出现在哺乳动物中约 6000 万年。 这种认知能力已在某些鸟类物种中发现,这表明鸟类恐龙或鸟类具有非凡的神经认知能力,早于哺乳动物出现类似技能。

隆德大学的研究人员发现,视觉视角采择,即跟随受阻凝视的认知能力,在恐龙世系中出现的时间早于它出现在哺乳动物中大约 6000 万年。 这一发现挑战了复杂认知主要在哺乳动物中进化的观念,并揭示了鸟类及其恐龙祖先的认知能力。

当您附近的人将头转向环境中的某物时,您可能会情不自禁地追踪他们的目光所在。 这种反应已经在哺乳动物、鸟类甚至爬行动物中观察到。 这是一种有效的方法,可以收集您可能错过的引起同事注意的信息。 然而,一种更高级的行为是跟随某人的视线到最初在您的视野中被遮挡的站点。 通过重新定位自己以了解对方正在看什么,您表明您理解对方有不同的观点。 这种被称为视觉换位思考的能力在一岁半到两岁之间的儿童中发展,并作为日后理解参照性交流以及其他人的想法与您的想法不同的基础。

迄今为止,视觉换位思考仅在极少数情况下被发现[{” attribute=””>species. Mainly in apes and some monkeys, but also in dogs and crow birds. However, there is limited knowledge regarding the evolutionary origins of this crucial social skill. A team of researchers from Lund University aimed to investigate a potential early emergence of visual perspective taking in dinosaurs. Through a comparison of alligators with the most primitive existing birds, known as palaeognaths, they discovered that visual perspective taking originated in the dinosaur lineage likely 60 million years, or more, prior to its appearance in mammals.

Dinosaur Gaze Following

Figure 1. Experimental setups of the study. Panels depict experiment setups (from left to right) for alligators, small birds (red junglefowl and elegant-crested tinamous), and large birds (emus and rheas). (A) Setups for experiment 1 (gazing up). (B) Setups for experiment 2 (gazing to the side). (C) Setups for experiment 3 (geometrical). Red dots depict stimuli used to lure demonstrators’ gazes (for more information about stimuli, see Materials and Methods). Credit: Science Advances, DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.adf0405


Crocodilians are the closest living relatives to birds. Their neuroanatomy has remained largely unchanged for hundreds of millions of years, and is similar to that of the common ancestor of dinosaurs and crocodilians. Palaeognath birds comprise the ostrich birds, such as emus and rheas, but also the flighted tinamous. Their brains are in large parts comparable to their forebearers, the non- avian paravian dinosaurs, which feature such celebrities as the velociraptors. Comparing these two groups of animals creates a bracket around the extinct lineage of dinosaurs leading up to modern birds.

The study revealed that alligators do not demonstrate visual perspective taking, although they do follow gaze to a visible location. In contrast, all tested bird species exhibited visual perspective taking. Additionally, the birds engaged in a behavior called “checking back,” where the observer looks back into the eyes of the gazer, and re-tracks the gaze, when unable to find anything in the direction of their gaze the first time. This behavior indicates an expectation that the gaze is referring to a target in the environment. Previously, this has only been observed in humans, apes and monkeys, and ravens.

Palaeognath birds emerged 110 million years ago, predating the two mammal groups endowed with visual perspective taking – primates and dogs – with 60 million years. Considering the neuroanatomical similarities between these birds and their non-avian forebearers, it is plausible that the skill originated even earlier in the dinosaur lineage. However, it is less likely to have been present among the earliest dinosaurs, which had more alligator-like brains. Maybe future research will show the ability to be more widespread among mammals than currently known, but even if that would be the case it will most probably still be predated by the dinosaur origin. Nevertheless, it is not surprising that visual perspective taking emerged earlier in the dinosaurs, which include the birds, given their superior vision compared to most mammals, that historically relied on nocturnal adaptations. It was only with the emergence of the primates and certain carnivores that our visual capabilities improved.

This is yet another finding that calls into question the prevailing view that mammals drove the evolution of complex cognition, and that they are the cognitive yardstick to which other animals should be compared. An increasing number of studies show the remarkable neurocognition of the avian dinosaurs, the birds, which might prompt a rethinking of the natural history of cognition.

Comments from the authors:

Senior author, prof. Mathias Osvath:

“Early in my career, crow birds earned the nickname “feathered apes,” due to numerous research findings that showcased their remarkable cognition. However, I’m beginning to question whether it would be more fitting to consider primates as honorary birds.”

First author (then PhD-student), Dr. Claudia Zeiträg:

“Birds are commonly being overlooked when it comes to their cognitive skills. Our findings show that they do not only have several cognitive skills on par with those of apes, but that their forebearers most likely had these skills long before they evolved in mammals.”

Middle author, Dr. Stephan Reber:

“Crocodilians are ideal models to study the evolutionary origins of cognitive capacities in birds. What they share most probably existed in the common ancestor of dinosaurs and crocodilians. If crocodilians lack an ability birds possess, it likely evolved in the dinosaur lineage after the split. This approach allows us to study the cognition of extinct species.”

Reference: “Gaze following in Archosauria—Alligators and palaeognath birds suggest dinosaur origin of visual perspective taking” by Claudia Zeiträg, Stephan A. Reber and Mathias Osvath, 19 May 2023, Science Advances.
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.adf0405

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