However, a team of neuroscientists from MIT has found that the human brain can process entire images that the eye sees for as little as 13 milliseconds — the first evidence of such rapid processing speed.
That speed is far faster than the 100 milliseconds suggested by previous studies. In the new study, which appears in the journal Attention, Perception, and Psychophysics, researchers asked subjects to look for a particular type of image, such as "picnic" or "smiling couple," as they viewed a series of six or 12 images, each presented for between 13 and 80 milliseconds.
"The fact that you can do that at these high speeds indicates to us that what vision does is find concepts. That's what the brain is doing all day long — trying to understand what we're looking at," says Mary Potter, an MIT professor of brain and cognitive sciences and senior author of the study.
This rapid-fire processing may help direct the eyes, which shift their gaze three times per second, to their next target, Potter says. "The job of the eyes is not only to get the information into the brain, but to allow the brain to think about it rapidly enough to know what you should look at next. So in general we're calibrating our eyes so they move around just as often as possible consistent with understanding what we're seeing," she says.
Other authors of the paper are former MIT postdoc Brad Wyble, now at Pennsylvania State University, postdoc Carl Hagmann, and research assistant Emily McCourt.Rapid identification
The researchers expected they might see a dramatic decline in performance around 50 milliseconds, because other studies have suggested that it takes at least 50 milliseconds for visual information to flow from the retina to the "top" of the visual processing chain in the brain and then back down again for further processing by so-called "re-entrant loops." These processing loops were believed necessary to confirm identification of a particular scene or object.
However, the MIT team found that although overall performance declined, subjects continued to perform better than chance as the researchers dropped the image exposure time from 80 milliseconds to 53 milliseconds, then 40 milliseconds, then 27, and finally 13 — the fastest possible rate with the computer monitor being used.
"This didn't really fit with the scientific literature we were familiar with, or with some common assumptions my colleagues and I have had for what you can see," Potter says.
Potter believes one reason for the subjects' better performance in this study may be that they were able to practice fast detection as the images were presented progressively faster, even though each image was unfamiliar. The subjects also received feedback on their performance after each trial, allowing them to adapt to this incredibly fast presentation. At the highest rate, subjects were seeing new images more than 20 times as fast as vision typically absorbs information.
"We think that under these conditions we begin to show more evidence of knowledge than in previous experiments where people hadn't really been expecting to find success, and didn't look very hard for it," Potter says.
The findings are consistent with a 2001 study from researchers at the University of Parma and the University of St. Andrews, who found that neurons in the brains of macaque monkeys that respond to specific types of image, such as faces, could be activated even when the target images were each presented for only 14 milliseconds in a rapid sequence.
"That was the only background that suggested maybe 14 milliseconds was sufficient to get something meaningful into the brain," Potter says.One-way flow
It also suggests that while the images are seen for only 13 milliseconds before the next image appears, part of the brain continues to process those images for longer than that, Potter says, because in some cases subjects weren't asked whether a specified image was present until after they had seen the sequence.
"If images were wiped out after 13 milliseconds, people would never be able to respond positively after the sequence. There has to be something in the brain that has maintained that information at least that long," she says.
This ability to identify images seen so briefly may help the brain as it decides where to focus the eyes, which dart from point to point in brief movements called fixations about three times per second, Potter says. Deciding where to move the eyes can take 100 to 140 milliseconds, so very high-speed understanding must occur before that.
The researchers are now investigating how long visual information presented so briefly can be held in the brain. They are also scanning subjects' brains with a magnetoencephalography (MEG) scanner during the task to see what brain regions are active when a person successfully completes the identification task.
The research was funded by the National Institutes of Health.
Written by Anne Trafton, MIT News Office
Sarah McDonnell | EurekAlert!
Europe’s Demographic Future. Where the Regions Are Heading after a Decade of Crises
10.08.2017 | Berlin-Institut für Bevölkerung und Entwicklung
Scientists reveal source of human heartbeat in 3-D
07.08.2017 | University of Manchester
Whether you call it effervescent, fizzy, or sparkling, carbonated water is making a comeback as a beverage. Aside from quenching thirst, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have discovered a new use for these "bubbly" concoctions that will have major impact on the manufacturer of the world's thinnest, flattest, and one most useful materials -- graphene.
As graphene's popularity grows as an advanced "wonder" material, the speed and quality at which it can be manufactured will be paramount. With that in mind,...
Physicists at the University of Bonn have managed to create optical hollows and more complex patterns into which the light of a Bose-Einstein condensate flows. The creation of such highly low-loss structures for light is a prerequisite for complex light circuits, such as for quantum information processing for a new generation of computers. The researchers are now presenting their results in the journal Nature Photonics.
Light particles (photons) occur as tiny, indivisible portions. Many thousands of these light portions can be merged to form a single super-photon if they are...
For the first time, scientists have shown that circular RNA is linked to brain function. When a RNA molecule called Cdr1as was deleted from the genome of mice, the animals had problems filtering out unnecessary information – like patients suffering from neuropsychiatric disorders.
While hundreds of circular RNAs (circRNAs) are abundant in mammalian brains, one big question has remained unanswered: What are they actually good for? In the...
An experimental small satellite has successfully collected and delivered data on a key measurement for predicting changes in Earth's climate.
The Radiometer Assessment using Vertically Aligned Nanotubes (RAVAN) CubeSat was launched into low-Earth orbit on Nov. 11, 2016, in order to test new...
A study led by scientists of the Max Planck Institute for the Structure and Dynamics of Matter (MPSD) at the Center for Free-Electron Laser Science in Hamburg presents evidence of the coexistence of superconductivity and “charge-density-waves” in compounds of the poorly-studied family of bismuthates. This observation opens up new perspectives for a deeper understanding of the phenomenon of high-temperature superconductivity, a topic which is at the core of condensed matter research since more than 30 years. The paper by Nicoletti et al has been published in the PNAS.
Since the beginning of the 20th century, superconductivity had been observed in some metals at temperatures only a few degrees above the absolute zero (minus...
16.08.2017 | Event News
04.08.2017 | Event News
26.07.2017 | Event News
22.08.2017 | Health and Medicine
22.08.2017 | Materials Sciences
22.08.2017 | Life Sciences