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Study shows that color plays musical chairs in the brain
Date:10/1/2009

Color is normally thought of as a fundamental attribute of an object: a red Corvette, a blue lake, a pink flamingo. Yet despite this popular notion, new research suggests that our perception of color is malleable, and relies heavily on biological processes of the eye and brain.

The brain's neural mechanisms keep straight which color belongs to what object, so one doesn't mistakenly see a blue flamingo in a pink lake. But what happens when a color loses the object to which it is linked? Research at the University of Chicago has demonstrated, for the first time, that instead of disappearing along with the lost object, the color latches onto a region of some other object in view a finding that reveals a new basic property of sight.

The research shows that the brain processes the shape of an object and its color in two separate pathways and, though the object's shape and color normally are linked, the neural representation of the color can survive alone. When that happens, the brain establishes a new link that binds the color to another visible shape.

"Color is in the brain. It is constructed, just as the meanings of words are constructed. Without the neural processes of the brain, we wouldn't be able to understand colors of objects any more than we could understand words of a language we hear but don't know," said Steven Shevell, a University of Chicago psychologist who specializes on color and vision.

Shevell's findings are reported in a paper, "Color-Binding Errors During Rivalrous Suppression of Form," in the current issue of Psychological Science. Wook Hong, who received his Ph.D. at UChicago and is now a post-doctoral fellow at Vanderbilt University, joined Shevell in writing the paper and conducting the research.

Their work expands the understanding of how the brain is able to integrate the multiple features of an object, such as shape, color, location and velocity, into a unified whole.


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Contact: William Harms
w-harms@uchicago.edu
773-702-8356
University of Chicago
Source:Eurekalert

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