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Learning to see consciously
Date:3/9/2011

Our brains process many more stimuli than we become aware of. Often images enter our brain without being noticed: visual information is being processed, but does not reach consciousness, that is, we do not have an impression of it. Then, what is the difference between conscious and unconscious perception, and can both forms of perception be changed through practice? These questions are important not only for basic research, but also for the treatment of patients with perceptual deficits due to brain lesions e.g. following a stroke. Scientists at the MPI for Brain Research in Frankfurt/Main could now show that seeing can be trained. Their tests revealed that the brain regions underlying the learning effects on conscious perception are different than the ones underlying the learning effects on the mere processing of stimuli.

Visual stimuli undergo a series of processing stages on their journey from the eye to the brain. How conscious perception can arise from the activity of neurons is one of the mysteries that the neurophysiologists at the MPI for Brain Research seek to solve. "Today, we know that the processing of stimuli in the cortex remains extremely plastic, or malleable, even in adults," explains Caspar Schwiedrzik who investigates the neural mechanisms of visual perception with his Max Planck colleagues Wolf Singer and Lucia Melloni. In their current study, the scientists examined whether perception can be influenced by long-term and systematic training and whether such training does not only change the processing, but also affects whether the stimulus can be consciously perceived.

It is known from clinical studies that some stroke patients who suffer partial blindness as a result of damage to the visual cortex can discriminate between stimuli that fall into their blind visual field. This unconscious discrimination ability can be improved through training. Nevertheless, the patients report that they do not see the images. In a few ca
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Contact: Lucia Melloni
lucia.melloni@brain.mpg.de
49-699-676-9268
Max-Planck-Gesellschaft
Source:Eurekalert  

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