Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Vanderbilt Researcher: Human Brain Has Great Sense Of Timing

Date:
May 17, 1999
Source:
Vanderbilt University
Summary:
Scientists have known for years that to perceive figures against busy backgrounds, human vision uses color, brightness and direction of motion. But startling new findings reported by Vanderbilt researcher Randolph Blake in the May 14 issue of Science magazine indicate that the human brain can also use the precise timing of subtle visual changes to group elements into objects.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. - Picture a marching band on the football field during halftime. With precise steps, some band members turn and march in a different direction than the rest, spelling out a school's letters or a mascot's shape. Scientists have known for years that to perceive figures against such a busy background, human vision uses color, brightness and direction of motion. But startling new findings reported by Vanderbilt researcher Randolph Blake in the May 14 issue of Science magazine indicate that the human brain can also use the precise timing of subtle visual changes to group elements into objects.

"People can compute changes in the direction of movement of many distinct parts of a scene at once, and can tell from the timing of these changes which parts belong to the same object," said Blake, a professor of psychology and investigator for Vanderbilt's John F. Kennedy Center for Research on Education and Human Development, who conducted his recent research with Vanderbilt graduate student Sang-Hun Lee. "This is the most convincing demonstration yet that the human visual system can use timing information alone to form coherent objects from features of a scene that change at the same time."

For their study, "Visual Form Created Solely from Temporal Structure," Blake and Lee created on a computer video screen a dense array of pinwheel-like objects, each spinning clockwise or counterclockwise. Each pinwheel changed its direction of rotation at random time intervals. When a cluster of pinwheels changed their directions at the same time, they appeared to form a coherent shape that stood out from the remaining pinwheels.

"Viewers were able to distinguish the synchronized group of pinwheels from the rest. This ability implies that we can compute changes in direction in the movement of many distinct parts of a scene and then identify the boundaries where the timing of these changes differs significantly," explained Blake. "In one respect, these are highly artificial visual displays," he said of the experiments. "It's hard to imagine an everyday situation where we would encounter an object whose presence would be defined solely by temporal coincidence. However, as we move about in our environments and look at objects that are perhaps themselves moving, temporal coincidence is inevitably part of the optical input that we must rely on for making sense of those objects and events."

Blake conducts his research - an interface of psychology and neuroscience - at the Vanderbilt Vision Research Center, founded in 1989 with a grant from the National Eye Institute. "I'm investigating human visual perception," he explained. "Vision - and in fact all of perception - happens quickly and effortlessly, yet the steps involved are extremely complicated. This complexity is revealed when engineers try to build machines that see. It turns out to be a huge technical challenge that has not been mastered. Yet our brains accomplish visual perception every waking moment of our lives."

Blake, who served as chair of Vanderbilt's psychology department from 1988 to 1996 and is a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and of the American Psychological Society, believes his work may advance understanding about the coding scheme that the brain normally uses in ordinary viewing situations.

"At the moment, there are strong opinions about the possible role of neural timing in perceptual grouping," Blake said. "This is an issue that Sang-Hun Lee and I prefer to leave to the neurophysiologists. But we believe our novel displays, and people's remarkable ability to perceive form based on temporal synchrony, may be useful in resolving the issue."

###

For more news about Vanderbilt, visit the News Service home page on the Internet at http://www.vanderbilt.edu/News. To view this Science story on May 14, see: http://www.sciencemag.org. Additional information on Blake's work can be found at: http://www.psy.vanderbilt.edu/faculty/blake/DEMOS/TS/TS.html


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Vanderbilt University. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

Vanderbilt University. "Vanderbilt Researcher: Human Brain Has Great Sense Of Timing." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 17 May 1999. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/1999/05/990517064755.htm>.
Vanderbilt University. (1999, May 17). Vanderbilt Researcher: Human Brain Has Great Sense Of Timing. ScienceDaily. Retrieved August 23, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/1999/05/990517064755.htm
Vanderbilt University. "Vanderbilt Researcher: Human Brain Has Great Sense Of Timing." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/1999/05/990517064755.htm (accessed August 23, 2014).

Share This




More Mind & Brain News

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Lost Brain Cells To Blame For Sleep Problems Among Seniors

Lost Brain Cells To Blame For Sleep Problems Among Seniors

Newsy (Aug. 21, 2014) According to a new study, elderly people might have trouble sleeping because of the loss of a certain group of neurons in the brain. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Do More Wedding Guests Make A Happier Marriage?

Do More Wedding Guests Make A Happier Marriage?

Newsy (Aug. 20, 2014) A new study found couples who had at least 150 guests at their weddings were more likely to report being happy in their marriages. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Charter Schools Alter Post-Katrina Landscape

Charter Schools Alter Post-Katrina Landscape

AP (Aug. 20, 2014) Nine years after Hurricane Katrina, charter schools are the new reality of public education in New Orleans. The state of Louisiana took over most of the city's public schools after the killer storm in 2005. (Aug. 20) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Researcher Testing on-Field Concussion Scanners

Researcher Testing on-Field Concussion Scanners

AP (Aug. 19, 2014) Four Texas high school football programs are trying out an experimental system designed to diagnose concussions on the field. The technology is in response to growing concern over head trauma in America's most watched sport. (Aug. 19) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins