This review focuses on the evolutionary causes and consequences of limited attention, defined as the restricted rate of information processing by the brain. The available data suggest, first, that limited attention is a major cognitive constraint determining animals’ search for cryptic food, and, second, that limited attention reduces animals’ ability to detect predators while involved in challenging tasks such as searching for cryptic food. These two effects of limited attention probably decrease animal fitness. Furthermore, a simulated evolutionary study provides empirical support for the prediction that focused attention by predators selects for prey polymorphism. The neurobiological mechanisms underlying limited attention have been widely studied. A recent incorporation of that mechanistic knowledge into an ecological model suggests that limited attention is an optimal strategy that balances effective yet economical search for cryptic objects. The review concludes with a set of testable predictions aimed to expand the currently limited empirical knowledge on the evolutionary ecology of limited attention.

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