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The brain performs visual search near optimally
Date:5/8/2011

d computer screens to show subjects sets of lines that might or might not contain a line oriented in a particular way. To manipulate reliability, they randomly varied the contrast of each line, making the target easier or more difficult to detect. Each screen was shown for only a fraction of a second, making the search task very difficult.

"We found that even in this complex task, people came close to being optimal in detecting the target," he said. "That means that humans can in a split second integrate information across space while taking into account the reliability of that information. That is important in our daily lives."

The task was deliberately made very hard so that people made mistakes, he said, but their answers were as good as they could be given the noise that is inherent to visual observations.

In the second part of their study, they determined that this ability might rely on groups (populations) of neurons that respond differently to different line orientations. Using such populations, they were able to construct a neural network that could weight information by the appropriate reliability.

They simulated this task on the computer and reproduced the behavior of human subjects, giving credence to their argument that the task requires populations of neurons.

"The visual system is automatically and subconsciously doing complex tasks," said Ma. "People see objects and how they relate to one another. We don't just see with our eyes. We see with our brains. Our eyes are the camera, but the process of interpreting the image in our brains is seeing."

The next question is when does a visual task become so complex that the human brain fails to be optimal?


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Contact: Graciela Gutierrez
ggutierr@bcm.edu
713-798-4710
Baylor College of Medicine
Source:Eurekalert

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