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UCSB study reveals brain functions during visual searches
Date:7/17/2012

(Santa Barbara, Calif.) You're headed out the door and you realize you don't have your car keys. After a few minutes of rifling through pockets, checking the seat cushions and scanning the coffee table, you find the familiar key ring and off you go. Easy enough, right? What you might not know is that the task that took you a couple seconds to complete is a task that computers despite decades of advancement and intricate calculations still can't perform as efficiently as humans: the visual search.

"Our daily lives are comprised of little searches that are constantly changing, depending on what we need to do," said Miguel Eckstein, UC Santa Barbara professor of psychological and brain sciences and co-author of the recently released paper "Feature-Independent Neural Coding of Target Detection during Search of Natural Scenes," published in the Journal of Neuroscience. "So the idea is, where does that take place in the brain?"

A large part of the human brain is dedicated to vision, with different parts involved in processing the many visual properties of the world. Some parts are stimulated by color, others by motion, yet others by shape.

However, those parts of the brain tell only a part of the story. What Eckstein and co-authors wanted to determine was how we decide whether the target object we are looking for is actually in the scene, how difficult the search is, and how we know we've found what we wanted.

They found their answers in the dorsal frontoparietal network, a region of the brain that roughly corresponds to the top of one's head, and is also associated with properties such as attention and eye movements. In the parts of the human brain used earlier in the processing stream, regions stimulated by specific features like color, motion, and direction are a major part of the search. However, in the dorsal frontoparietal network, activity is not confined to any specific features of the object.

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Contact: Sonia Fernandez
sonia.fernandez@ia.ucsb.edu
805-893-4765
University of California - Santa Barbara
Source:Eurekalert  

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UCSB study reveals brain functions during visual searches
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