Neuroscientists of Jena University (Germany) discover adaptation mechanisms of the brain when perceiving letters of the alphabet
The headlights – two eyes, the radiator cowling – a smiling mouth: This is how our brain sometimes creates a face out of a car front. The same happens with other objects: in house facades, trees or stones – a “human face” can often be detected as well.
Neuroscientists of Jena University (Germany) discover adaptation mechanisms of the brain when perceiving letters of the alphabet. Photo: Jan-Peter Kasper/FSU
Prof. Dr. Gyula Kovács from Friedrich Schiller University Jena (Germany) knows the reason why. “Faces are of tremendous importance for human beings,” the neuroscientist explains. That’s why in the course of the evolution our visual perception has specialized in the recognition of faces in particular. “This sometimes even goes as far as us recognizing faces when there are none at all.”
Until now the researchers assumed that this phenomenon is an exception that can only be applied to faces. But, as Prof. Kovács and his colleague Mareike Grotheer were able to point out in a new study: these distinct adaptation mechanisms are not only restricted to the perception of faces. In the “The Journal of Neuroscience“ the Jena researchers have proved that the effect can also occur in the perception of letters. (DOI: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.5326-13.2014).
The basis for this is the neuronal plasticity of the brain, which allows us to adapt to environmental stimuli. “The more often we are exposed to a certain stimulus, the quicker we perceive it,” Mareike Grotheer, doctoral candidate in Kovác‘s team says. This “training effect” could be measured directly in the brain. As magnetic resonance imaging shows, environmental stimuli which the brain has already adapted to, lead to distinctly lower responses in the processing areas. “This might sound paradoxical at first, but it only means that the brain arrives at the same result with less effort,” Kovács points out.
This adaptation mechanism is particularly pronounced in situations when we expect a very specific stimulus. “Our past experiences are essential in shaping our sense of perception,” Kovács stresses. For the recognition of characters experience also plays a decisive role. Practically we are surrounded by characters everywhere: in the media, in the streets, on everyday objects.
In their study the researchers showed different characters to test persons and recorded via functional magnetic resonance imaging the brain activity which was set into motion by the process of seeing. “The recordings clearly show that the brain activity adapts to the visual perception of characters in the course of the measurements,” Kovács says. However, this only applies to correct roman characters. The Jena researches were not able to detect a similar adaptation in a parallel test series with false, altered characters.
It stands to reason, Prof. Kovács sums up, that the reading and writing experience of a test person is responsible for this adaptation. It is not yet clear, if the adaptability of the brain can be specifically trained to the recognition of characters or if it is the result of evolutionary development processes – which is the case with the recognition of faces: This has to be shown in future research.
Grotheer M, Kovács G. Repetition probability effects depend on prior experiences. The Journal of Neuroscience 2014 (DOI: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.5326-13.2014)
Prof. Dr. Gyula Kovács
Institute of Psychology
Friedrich Schiller University Jena
Leutragraben 1, 07743 Jena
Phone: ++49 3641 / 945936
Dr. Ute Schönfelder | idw - Informationsdienst Wissenschaft
Nerve cells with a sense of rhythm
25.08.2016 | Deutsches Primatenzentrum GmbH - Leibniz-Institut für Primatenforschung
Genetic Regulation of the Thymus Function Identified
23.08.2016 | Universität Basel
Scientists and engineers striving to create the next machine-age marvel--whether it be a more aerodynamic rocket, a faster race car, or a higher-efficiency jet...
Waveguides are widely used for filtering, confining, guiding, coupling or splitting beams of visible light. However, creating waveguides that could do the same for X-rays has posed tremendous challenges in fabrication, so they are still only in an early stage of development.
In the latest issue of Acta Crystallographica Section A: Foundations and Advances , Sarah Hoffmann-Urlaub and Tim Salditt report the fabrication and testing of...
Electrochemists at TU Graz have managed to use monocrystalline semiconductor silicon as an active storage electrode in lithium batteries. This enables an integrated power supply to be made for microchips with a rechargeable battery.
Small electrical gadgets, such as mobile phones, tablets or notebooks, are indispensable accompaniments of everyday life. Integrated circuits in the interiors...
Recent findings indicating the possible discovery of a previously unknown subatomic particle may be evidence of a fifth fundamental force of nature, according...
A nanocrystalline material that rapidly makes white light out of blue light has been developed by KAUST researchers.
25.08.2016 | Event News
24.08.2016 | Event News
12.08.2016 | Event News
25.08.2016 | Power and Electrical Engineering
25.08.2016 | Social Sciences
25.08.2016 | Life Sciences