Human Brain Predicts/Shifts Visual Attention Before Eyes Even Move
January 12, 2011 10:27 AM
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Study shows that the brain helps improve accuracy in identifying object by shifting visual attention before our eyes even move
Researchers from the
University of Paris Descartes
New York University's Department of Psychology
Ludwig-Maximilian University in Munich
have found that the brain is capable of shifting visual attention before our eyes even move to the next object we're about to see.
Martin Rolfs, co-author of the study and post-doctoral fellow in New York University's Department of Psychology, along with a team of researchers from the University of Paris Descartes and Ludwig-Maximilian University in Munich, have discovered that the brain can
predict the outcome of our eye movements
based on what we are about to see.
To take in new visual information, our eyes jump about three times per second in order to capture different views of our surroundings. Each of these jumps to process new views is sent to the retina, which is a layer of visual receptors located on the
back of our eyes
. But humans do not see the world in quick jumps like clicks of a camera. Instead, we see a smooth, stable world with gentle transitions from one image to the next. This is because the brain shifts visual attention immediately before the eye movement in order to "track targets and prepare for actions toward the these target's locations following the eye movement."
To test this, researchers experimented with human volunteers. The volunteers were asked to track different objects with their eyes, which would require them to make rapid eye movements from one object to the next within their
field of vision
The objects were six grey squares placed strategically throughout the volunteer's field of vision. Five of the six grey squares had vertical lines on them while only one had a tilted slash. The volunteers were asked to identify the tilted slash amongst those with vertical lines, and while making these eye movements, researchers recorded and gauged each volunteer's ability to identify the slash. They paid attention to which locations were given more attention just before the actual eye movement as well.
"Our results show that shifts of visual attention precede rapid eye movements, improving accuracy in identifying objects in the visual field and speeding our future actions to those objects," said Rolfs.
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How did they measure this?
1/12/2011 11:36:33 AM
My research in grad school was with eye tracking, so this is interesting to me. But one question I have is how did they pay "attention to which locations were given more attention just before the actual eye movement as well." Did they scan the brain during the experiment, and do different parts of the brain "light up" before we look top left versus bottom right? I know we can see different parts "light up" when comparing someone doing math vs reading, but is precise enough to know the direction you are about to look. Does this work for other muscles like moving my left leg or say my ring finger on my right hand. How precise can we get? My research we more with graphics and binocular vision, and not so much the brain.
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