Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Out of sight, out of mind? Not necessarily


Visual information is processed even when the visual cortex is temporarily shut down

Visual information can be processed unconsciously when the area of the brain that records what the eye sees is temporarily shut down, according to research at Rice University in Houston.

The research, published the week of Oct. 31 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences’ (PNAS) online Early Edition, suggests the brain has more than one pathway along which visual information can be sent.

For the study, the researchers induced temporary, reversible blindness lasting only a fraction of a second in nine volunteers with normal vision. Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), a harmless noninvasive technique using brief magnetic pulses, was applied to the volunteers’ visual cortex -- the area at the back of the brain that processes what the eye sees - to interrupt the normal visual pathway. The volunteers looked at a computer screen, and during their momentary blindness, either a horizontal or a vertical line or a red or a green dot flashed on the screen.

Researchers then asked the study participants whether they had seen a horizontal or a vertical line; because their primary visual pathway had been shut down, the participants reported that they saw nothing. However, when forced to guess which line had appeared on their computer screen, the participants gave the correct answer 75 percent of the time. When the participants had to guess whether a red or a green dot had flashed on the screen, they gave the correct answer with 81 percent accuracy.

"This high degree of accuracy for both the directional orientation and color tasks was significantly above chance," said Tony Ro, associate professor of psychology and principal investigator for the study. "Even though the human primary visual cortex activity was temporarily shut down, it’s clear that detailed visual information was still being processed unconsciously."

Because only a certain region of the thalamus - the area of the brain where all sensory information is relayed -- can process color, the study provides evidence that there must be a pathway that goes through this region of the thalamus to the higher visual centers of the brain, Ro said.

"In addition to providing direct evidence that unconscious processing takes place within the brain - a controversial claim that was advanced by the likes of Sigmund Freud and William James - our results suggest that multiple pathways relay visual input into the central nervous system for different types of processing," Ro said. "And our study also begins to shed light on the brain structures that are necessary for consciousness, with the primary visual cortex playing an essential role for visual awareness."

The phenomenon of "blindsight" has been reported in patients with brain damage who report not seeing something but correctly identify the shape and location when forced to guess. Ro noted that his study demonstrates that TMS can be used successfully to induce blindsight in people with normal vision.

Ro’s co-authors on the PNAS paper were graduate student Jennifer Boyer and Stephanie Harrison, a summer intern.

B.J. Almond | EurekAlert!
Further information:

More articles from Studies and Analyses:

nachricht Diagnoses: When Are Several Opinions Better Than One?
19.07.2016 | Max-Planck-Institut für Bildungsforschung

nachricht High in calories and low in nutrients when adolescents share pictures of food online
07.04.2016 | University of Gothenburg

All articles from Studies and Analyses >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to reality

Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.

"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...

Im Focus: Scientists develop a semiconductor nanocomposite material that moves in response to light

In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.

A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...

Im Focus: Diamonds aren't forever: Sandia, Harvard team create first quantum computer bridge

By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.

"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...

Im Focus: New Products - Highlights of COMPAMED 2016

COMPAMED has become the leading international marketplace for suppliers of medical manufacturing. The trade fair, which takes place every November and is co-located to MEDICA in Dusseldorf, has been steadily growing over the past years and shows that medical technology remains a rapidly growing market.

In 2016, the joint pavilion by the IVAM Microtechnology Network, the Product Market “High-tech for Medical Devices”, will be located in Hall 8a again and will...

Im Focus: Ultra-thin ferroelectric material for next-generation electronics

'Ferroelectric' materials can switch between different states of electrical polarization in response to an external electric field. This flexibility means they show promise for many applications, for example in electronic devices and computer memory. Current ferroelectric materials are highly valued for their thermal and chemical stability and rapid electro-mechanical responses, but creating a material that is scalable down to the tiny sizes needed for technologies like silicon-based semiconductors (Si-based CMOS) has proven challenging.

Now, Hiroshi Funakubo and co-workers at the Tokyo Institute of Technology, in collaboration with researchers across Japan, have conducted experiments to...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

Agricultural Trade Developments and Potentials in Central Asia and the South Caucasus

14.10.2016 | Event News

World Health Summit – Day Three: A Call to Action

12.10.2016 | Event News

Latest News

Resolving the mystery of preeclampsia

21.10.2016 | Health and Medicine

Stanford researchers create new special-purpose computer that may someday save us billions

21.10.2016 | Information Technology

From ancient fossils to future cars

21.10.2016 | Materials Sciences

More VideoLinks >>>