February 18, 2019

Ever wonder how your brain knows what a certain object is, even if the object is mostly hidden? Researchers at the Washington National Primate Research Center (WaNPRC) at the University of Washington (UW) may have discovered an explanation for this phenomenon.

Researchers studied brain signals and tracked eye movements in rhesus monkeys while the animals played a computer game in which they attempted to identify half-hidden, two-dimensional objects and specific shapes.

“Basically, when the task is simple, (the) visual cortex works just fine, but when the task becomes difficult, there needs to be communication between a higher brain region involved in memory and learning,” Anitha Pasupathy, PhD, Associate Professor at the UW School of Medicine Department of Biological Structure, said about the results of the study.

These findings make the researchers wonder if impaired communication between the brain’s thinking and sensory parts might lead to certain difficulties, like confusion in cluttered surroundings, for people who have autism or Alzheimer’s.   

“This, for us, is a very exciting demonstration because it breaks open a whole lot of questions we can ask about how different brain areas interact to solve this important problem of visual recognition,” noted Pasupathy.

The scientists said the next step in their research is to determine if more brain areas are involved in recognizing objects with more complex images.

Photo credit: Kathy West for the California National Primate Research Center


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