What Do Lions, Cow Butts with Painted Eyes and Human Decision Making Have in Common?

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Aug 22 2020 15 mins   3

This week we were inspired by Robby Berman’s article on Big Think.com called “Eyes painted on cow butt’s thwart lion attacks.” It got us thinking about how humans put together stories from things that don’t make sense – just like lions.

The article is about how lions don’t prey on cattle when the cattle have eyes painted on their butts. Lions are what are called ambush predators. That means they want the easiest kills possible. They want to come up on an unsuspecting animal and pounce it quickly…and they won’t do that if the animal appears to be looking at them.

Lions confuse the painted eyes for real eyes. More than simply the inability to process a fake eye from a real eye, lions are susceptible to an optical illusion. Optical illusions happen to be very similar to cognitive illusions (in decision making) in humans.

Kurt and Tim decided to follow this direction: how do people make decisions when the inputs don’t make sense or when there’s too much input data?

This discussion is about human decision making and the challenges we have with using shortcuts (heuristics) to make sense of overwhelming amounts of data.

© 2020 Weekly Grooves


“Eyes painted on cow butts thwart lion attacks” in BigThink.com by Robby Berman, 12 August, 2020: https://bigthink.com/surprising-science/cow-eye-butt?rebelltitem=1#rebelltitem1

“TOP 10 MASTERS OF DECEPTION IN THE NATURAL WORLD” http://isciencemag.co.uk/features/top-10-masters-of-deception-in-the-natural-world/

“’Reality’ is constructed by your brain. Here’s what that means, and why it matters.” By Brian Resnick, Vox, July 2020. https://www.vox.com/science-and-health/20978285/optical-illusion-science-humility-reality-polarization

“How Do Optical Illusions Work?” by Kirk Zamieroski on Inside Science: https://www.insidescience.org/video/how-do-optical-illusions-work

Common Biases & Heuristics: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1XHpBr0VFcaT8wIUpr-9zMIb79dFMgOVFRxIZRybiftI/edit

Some of our favorite optical illusions…

Cornsweet illusion: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cornsweet_illusion

Adelson’s Checker-Shadow Illusion: https://www.illusionsindex.org/ir/checkershadow

Poggendorff Illusion: https://www.illusionsindex.org/ir/poggendorff-illusion

Shepard Tables: https://www.illusionsindex.org/i/shepard-scales

Kanizsa Triangle: https://www.illusionsindex.org/i/kanizsa-triangle