Bass Connections

The Bass Connections program at Duke brings together faculty and students to work on interdisciplinary, problem centered projects. The Animal Locomotion has received two Bass Connections grants.

Look before you leap! Using eye tracking to understand the evolution of decision-making. 

What can lemur locomotion teach us about human decision-making?

Although we’re not always aware of it, our brains are constantly engaging attention and decision-making processes while we navigate the environment. The origin of the human brain began when our ancestors became specialized for life in the trees—an adaptation requiring enhanced decision-making and attention to physical and social cues. These processes take into account new information, past experiences, and social cues to select a travel path, avoid obstacles and choose how to move, in order to arrive safely and efficiently at our intended destination. To thrive in this environment, our earliest ancestors underwent rapid expansion of the visual centers of the brain associated with movement, foraging and decision-making. This expansion, which continued throughout primate evolution, served as the foundation for the revolution in attention and decision-making processes that define modern human behavior. How these processes evolved in humans is virtually unknown.
To address this question, this project will explore how lemurs—animals similar in many ways to the earliest primates—use their eyes to plan movements in the environment. We will use wireless infrared gaze-tracking technology developed for animals here at Duke to explore decision-making in freely moving lemurs in a semicaptive arboreal environment using techniques developed over the past 20 years by Daniel Schmitt and refined more recently by Michael Granatosky. Duke is the only place with the expertise and animals to pursue this study. Anne Yoder will help facilitate experiments and provide necessary infrastructure at the Duke Lemur Center. Due to the complexity of the data, automated visual analysis procedures will be developed by Katherine Heller to interpret meaningful results from the experiments. The project will test visual decision-making during walking, climbing, foraging and predator avoidance. The team will build understanding of the evolution of enhanced vision, attention and decision-making in primates and, eventually, humans.
Animal Locomotion Lab Team Members:
Faculty- Daniel Schmitt 
Graduate Student- Michael Granatosky 
Undergraduate- Mark Cullen

Shining evolutionary light on global health challenges. 

As part of a larger project, the team traveled to Madagascar where they collected biomechanical data as locals walked over a force plate that was embedded in the ground. For each subject, survey data of self-reported pain was also collected. Preliminary results were presented as a poster.

Animal Locomotion Lab Team Members:
Faculty- Daniel Schmitt
Undergraduate- Taylor Trentadue