Using fMRI, the study looked at whether an image you aren’t aware of – but one that reaches the retina – has an impact on brain activity in the primary visual cortex, part of the occipital lobe. Subjects’ brains did respond to the object even when they were not conscious of having seen it.
Dr Bahador Bahrami, of the UCL Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience and the UCL Department of Psychology, said: “What’s interesting here is that your brain does log things that you aren’t even aware of and can’t ever become aware of. We show that there is a brain response in the primary visual cortex to subliminal images that attract our attention – without us having the impression of having seen anything. These findings point to the sort of impact that subliminal advertising may have on the brain. What our study doesn’t address is whether this would then influence you to go out and buy a product. I believe that it’s likely that subliminal advertising may affect our decisions – but that is just speculation at this point.”
Subjects wore red-blue filter glasses that projected faint pictures of everyday objects (such as pliers and an iron) to one eye and a strong flashing image known as ‘continuous flash suppression’ to the other. This recently developed technique effectively erases subjects’ awareness of the faint images so that they were unable to localise the faint images on screen. At the same time, subjects performed either an easy task – picking out the letter T from a stream of letters, or a task that required more concentration in which subjects had to pick out the white N or blue Z from the same stream.
During the harder task, the subjects’ brains blocked out the subliminal image and the fMRI scan did not detect any associated neural activity. This finding – that the brain does not pick up on subliminal stimuli if it is too busily occupied with other things – shows that some degree of attention is needed for even the subconscious to pick up on subliminal images.
Dr Bahrami said: “This is exciting research for the scientific community because it challenges previous thinking – that what is subconscious is also automatic, effortless and unaffected by attention. This research shows that when your brain doesn’t have the capacity to pay attention to an image, even images that act on our subconscious simply do not get registered.”
The research challenges the theory of the pioneering American psychologist and philosopher, William James, (1842–1910), who said: “We are conscious of what we attend to – and not conscious of what we do not attend to”.
The team’s findings show that there are situations where consciousness and attention don’t go hand in hand.
Alex Brew | alfa
Rainbow colors reveal cell history: Uncovering β-cell heterogeneity
22.09.2017 | DFG-Forschungszentrum für Regenerative Therapien TU Dresden
The pyrenoid is a carbon-fixing liquid droplet
22.09.2017 | Max-Planck-Institut für Biochemie
Plants and algae use the enzyme Rubisco to fix carbon dioxide, removing it from the atmosphere and converting it into biomass. Algae have figured out a way to increase the efficiency of carbon fixation. They gather most of their Rubisco into a ball-shaped microcompartment called the pyrenoid, which they flood with a high local concentration of carbon dioxide. A team of scientists at Princeton University, the Carnegie Institution for Science, Stanford University and the Max Plank Institute of Biochemistry have unravelled the mysteries of how the pyrenoid is assembled. These insights can help to engineer crops that remove more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere while producing more food.
A warming planet
Our brains house extremely complex neuronal circuits, whose detailed structures are still largely unknown. This is especially true for the so-called cerebral cortex of mammals, where among other things vision, thoughts or spatial orientation are being computed. Here the rules by which nerve cells are connected to each other are only partly understood. A team of scientists around Moritz Helmstaedter at the Frankfiurt Max Planck Institute for Brain Research and Helene Schmidt (Humboldt University in Berlin) have now discovered a surprisingly precise nerve cell connectivity pattern in the part of the cerebral cortex that is responsible for orienting the individual animal or human in space.
The researchers report online in Nature (Schmidt et al., 2017. Axonal synapse sorting in medial entorhinal cortex, DOI: 10.1038/nature24005) that synapses in...
Whispering gallery mode (WGM) resonators are used to make tiny micro-lasers, sensors, switches, routers and other devices. These tiny structures rely on a...
Using ultrafast flashes of laser and x-ray radiation, scientists at the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics (Garching, Germany) took snapshots of the briefest electron motion inside a solid material to date. The electron motion lasted only 750 billionths of the billionth of a second before it fainted, setting a new record of human capability to capture ultrafast processes inside solids!
When x-rays shine onto solid materials or large molecules, an electron is pushed away from its original place near the nucleus of the atom, leaving a hole...
For the first time, physicists have successfully imaged spiral magnetic ordering in a multiferroic material. These materials are considered highly promising candidates for future data storage media. The researchers were able to prove their findings using unique quantum sensors that were developed at Basel University and that can analyze electromagnetic fields on the nanometer scale. The results – obtained by scientists from the University of Basel’s Department of Physics, the Swiss Nanoscience Institute, the University of Montpellier and several laboratories from University Paris-Saclay – were recently published in the journal Nature.
Multiferroics are materials that simultaneously react to electric and magnetic fields. These two properties are rarely found together, and their combined...
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