Scientists wanted to analyze what details automatically most attract our attention. For instance, if there is a spider in the room, the most spider-fearing members of a group will likely be the first to point it out. Past research hinted this happens because our attention systems are hardwired to notice threats, but other research suggested that our attention is simply drawn to details we find most important personally.
To see which idea might be correct, behavioral psychologist Helena Purkis at the University of Queensland in Australia and her colleagues at the University of Sussex in England compared how much attention was paid not only to pictures of spiders, but also images taken from “Doctor Who” — pictures with presumably no survival relevance whatsoever. (Hint: The non-survival-relevant sci-fi series grabbed the attention of enthusiasts.)