Scientists at the University of Southern California have pinned down the region of the brain responsible for a key survival trait: our ability to comprehend a sceneeven one never previously encounteredin a fraction of a second.
The key is to process the interacting objects that comprise a scene more quickly than unrelated objects, according to corresponding author Irving Biederman, professor of psychology and computer science in the USC Dornsife College and the Harold W. Dornsife Chair in Neuroscience.
The study appears in the June 1 issue of The Journal of Neuroscience.
The brain's ability to understand a whole scene on the fly "gives us an enormous edge on an organism that would have to look at objects one by one and slowly add them up," Biederman said. What's more, the interaction of objects in a scene actually allows the brain to identify those objects faster than if they were not interacting.
While previous research had already established the existence of this "scene-facilitation effect," the location of the part of the brain responsible for the effect remained a mystery. That's what Biederman and lead author Jiye G. Kim, a graduate doctoral student in Biederman's lab, set out to uncover with Chi-Hung Juan of the Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience at the National Central University in Taiwan.
"The 'where' in the brain gives us clues as to the 'how,'" Biederman said. This study is the latest in an ongoing effort by Biederman and Kim to unlock the complex way in which the brain processes visual experience. The goal, as Biederman puts it, is to understand "how we get mind from brain."
To find out the "where" of the scene-facilitation effect, the researchers flashed drawings of pairs of objects for just 1/20 of a second. Some of these objects were depicted as interacting, such as a hand grasping for a pen, and some were not, with the hand reaching away from the pen. The test subjects were asked t
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University of Southern California