Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Attention acts as visual glue

02.08.2002


When you gaze at a bowl of fruit, why don’t some of the bananas look red, some of the apples look purple and some of the grapes look yellow?

This question isn’t as nonsensical as it may sound. When your brain processes the information coming from your eyes, it stores the information about an object’s shape in one place and information about its color in another. So it’s something of a miracle that the shapes and colors of each fruit are combined seamlessly into distinct objects when you look at them.

Exactly how the brain recombines these different types of visual information after it has broken them apart is called the "binding problem" and is currently the subject of considerable controversy in the neuroscience community. But the results of a brain mapping experiment, published online by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on July 29, provide significant new support for the theory that attention is the glue that cements visual information together as people scan complex visual scenes.



The study was a collaboration among René Marois, assistant professor of psychology at Vanderbilt; John C. Gore, who recently moved from Yale to become a Chancellor’s University Professor at Vanderbilt; and Yale graduate student Keith M. Shafritz.

"There are more than a dozen places in the brain involved with processing visual information, each specializing in information with slightly different attributes," says Marois. "Some specialize in processing color, some specialize in processing shape, while others specialize in movement. These areas are not clustered together, but distributed widely around the back of the brain."

There are two leading theories about how the brain reintegrates this information.

One view proposes that the neurons in the scattered areas are bound together in a way that allows them to act simultaneously. When you look at a banana, the neurons that store information about the banana’s shape fire simultaneously with the neurons in a different region of the brain that store information about the banana’s color. It is the direct functional interaction between neurons located in different visual areas that binds together an object’s numerous visual properties.

In the 1980’s, Anne M. Triesman at Princeton and her colleagues advanced an alternative mechanism. She proposed that visual binding is mediated by the parietal cortex, an area of the brain known to be involved in spatial attention. She suggested that the act of focusing one’s attention on an object’s spatial location provides the key that binds the different types of visual information together. If an apple is sitting on the table in front of a woman, then her brain, specifically the parietal cortex, associates the information about its color and shape with its location and uses the spatial information to bind together the visual information whenever she focuses her attention on the apple.

The description of a patient who, following a brain injury in the parietal lobe, had difficulty associating colors with more than one object at a time gave Marois the idea for the basic experiment. When the person was presented with objects one at a time, he had no problem properly pairing their shapes and colors. When presented with two or more objects at the same time, however, he often mismatched the color of one object with the shape of another.

So Marois designed a series of trials that asked subjects to concentrate on the shape only, the color only or both shape and color of pairs of objects displayed on a computer screen while their brain activity was monitored using the technique called functional MRI. The researchers presented these pairs to the individuals either sequentially in the same location or simultaneously at different locations and recorded the areas in the brain that were most active.

"The purpose of our study was really to test the attention theory as strongly as we could," says Marois. "I was actually surprised that it worked because we had to adopt such stringent testing conditions."

Despite their stringency, the tests showed that activity in the parietal region increased significantly whenever the individuals were presented with more than one object at the same time.

"This provides strong evidence in favor of the theory that spatial attention is the binding glue that the brain uses to integrate visual objects whenever it is presented with more than one object at the same time, which is most of the time," says Marois.

While the study results support the attention theory, they do not rule out other mechanisms. "In fact," he adds, "it is practically certain that the brain uses several mechanisms to solve this fascinating problem."


The project was funded by a grant from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.

For more news about research at Vanderbilt, visit Exploration, Vanderbilt’s online research magazine at http://exploration.vanderbilt.edu.


David F. Salisbury | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://exploration.vanderbilt.edu
http://www.vanderbilt.edu/

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Making fuel out of thick air
08.12.2017 | DOE/Argonne National Laboratory

nachricht ‘Spying’ on the hidden geometry of complex networks through machine intelligence
08.12.2017 | Technische Universität Dresden

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

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

Im Focus: Towards data storage at the single molecule level

The miniaturization of the current technology of storage media is hindered by fundamental limits of quantum mechanics. A new approach consists in using so-called spin-crossover molecules as the smallest possible storage unit. Similar to normal hard drives, these special molecules can save information via their magnetic state. A research team from Kiel University has now managed to successfully place a new class of spin-crossover molecules onto a surface and to improve the molecule’s storage capacity. The storage density of conventional hard drives could therefore theoretically be increased by more than one hundred fold. The study has been published in the scientific journal Nano Letters.

Over the past few years, the building blocks of storage media have gotten ever smaller. But further miniaturization of the current technology is hindered by...

Im Focus: Successful Mechanical Testing of Nanowires

With innovative experiments, researchers at the Helmholtz-Zentrums Geesthacht and the Technical University Hamburg unravel why tiny metallic structures are extremely strong

Light-weight and simultaneously strong – porous metallic nanomaterials promise interesting applications as, for instance, for future aeroplanes with enhanced...

Im Focus: Virtual Reality for Bacteria

An interdisciplinary group of researchers interfaced individual bacteria with a computer to build a hybrid bio-digital circuit - Study published in Nature Communications

Scientists at the Institute of Science and Technology Austria (IST Austria) have managed to control the behavior of individual bacteria by connecting them to a...

Im Focus: A space-time sensor for light-matter interactions

Physicists in the Laboratory for Attosecond Physics (run jointly by LMU Munich and the Max Planck Institute for Quantum Optics) have developed an attosecond electron microscope that allows them to visualize the dispersion of light in time and space, and observe the motions of electrons in atoms.

The most basic of all physical interactions in nature is that between light and matter. This interaction takes place in attosecond times (i.e. billionths of a...

Im Focus: A transistor of graphene nanoribbons

Transistors based on carbon nanostructures: what sounds like a futuristic dream could be reality in just a few years' time. An international research team working with Empa has now succeeded in producing nanotransistors from graphene ribbons that are only a few atoms wide, as reported in the current issue of the trade journal "Nature Communications."

Graphene ribbons that are only a few atoms wide, so-called graphene nanoribbons, have special electrical properties that make them promising candidates for the...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Innovative strategies to tackle parasitic worms

08.12.2017 | Event News

AKL’18: The opportunities and challenges of digitalization in the laser industry

07.12.2017 | Event News

Blockchain is becoming more important in the energy market

05.12.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Making fuel out of thick air

08.12.2017 | Life Sciences

Rules for superconductivity mirrored in 'excitonic insulator'

08.12.2017 | Information Technology

Smartphone case offers blood glucose monitoring on the go

08.12.2017 | Information Technology

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>