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How we see objects in depth: The brain's code for 3-D structure

toral fellow, Yukako Yamane, trained two rhesus monkeys to look at a computer monitor while 3-D pictures of objects were flashed on the screen. At the same time, the researchers recorded electrical responses of individual neurons in higher-level visual regions of the brain. A computer algorithm was used to guide the experiment gradually toward object shapes that evoked stronger responses.

This evolutionary stimulus strategy let the experimenters pinpoint the exact 3-D shape information that drove a given cell to respond.

These findings and other research on object coding in the brain have implications for treating patients with perceptual disorders. In addition, they could inform new approaches to computer vision. Connor also believes that understanding neural codes could help explain why visual experience feels the way it does, perhaps even why some things seem beautiful and others displeasing.

"In a sense, artists are neuroscientists, experimenting with shape and color, trying to evoke unique, powerful responses from the visual brain," Connor said.

As a first step toward this neuroaesthetic question, the Connor laboratory plans to collaborate with the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore to study human responses to sculptural shape. Gary Vikan, the Walters' director, is a strong believer in the power of neuroscience to inform the interpretation of art.

"My interest is in finding out what happens between a visitor's brain and a work of art," said Vikan. "Knowing what effect art has on patrons' brains will contribute to techniques of display -- lighting and color and arrangement -- that will enhance their experiences when they come into the museum."

The plan is to let museum patrons view a series of computer-generated 3-D shapes and rate them aesthetically. The same computer algorithm will be used to guide evolution of these shapes; in this case, based on aesthetic preference.

If this experiment can id

Contact: Lisa DeNike
Johns Hopkins University

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