Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

How We See Objects In Depth: Brain's Code For 3-D Structure

Date:
October 28, 2008
Source:
Johns Hopkins University
Summary:
Neuroscientists have discovered patterns of brain activity that may underlie our remarkable ability to see and understand the three-dimensional structure of objects.

It seems trivial to us to describe a teapot as having a C-shaped handle on one side, an S-shaped spout on the other and a disk-shaped lid on top. But sifting this three-dimensional information from the constantly changing, two-dimensional images coming in through our eyes is one of the most difficult tasks the brain performs.
Credit: iStockphoto/Tjasa Maticic

A team of Johns Hopkins University neuroscientists has discovered patterns of brain activity that may underlie our remarkable ability to see and understand the three-dimensional structure of objects.

Related Articles


Computers can beat us at math and chess, but humans are the experts at object vision. (That's why some Web sites use object recognition tasks as part of their authentication of human users.) It seems trivial to us to describe a teapot as having a C-shaped handle on one side, an S-shaped spout on the other and a disk-shaped lid on top. But sifting this three-dimensional information from the constantly changing, two-dimensional images coming in through our eyes is one of the most difficult tasks the brain performs. Even sophisticated computer vision systems have never been able to accomplish the same feat using two-dimensional camera images.

The Johns Hopkins research suggests that higher-level visual regions of the brain represent objects as spatial configurations of surface fragments, something like a structural drawing. Individual neurons are tuned to respond to surface fragment substructures. For instance, one neuron from the study responded to the combination of a forward-facing ridge near the front and an upward-facing concavity near the top. Multiple neurons with different tuning sensitivities could combine like a three-dimensional mosaic to encode the entire object surface.

"Human beings are keenly aware of object structure, and that may be due to this clear structural representation in the brain," explains Charles E. Connor, associate professor in the Zanvyl Krieger Mind-Brain Institute at The Johns Hopkins University.

In the study, Connor and a postdoctoral fellow, Yukako Yamane, trained two rhesus monkeys to look at a computer monitor while 3-D pictures of objects were flashed on the screen. At the same time, the researchers recorded electrical responses of individual neurons in higher-level visual regions of the brain. A computer algorithm was used to guide the experiment gradually toward object shapes that evoked stronger responses.

This evolutionary stimulus strategy let the experimenters pinpoint the exact 3-D shape information that drove a given cell to respond.

These findings and other research on object coding in the brain have implications for treating patients with perceptual disorders. In addition, they could inform new approaches to computer vision. Connor also believes that understanding neural codes could help explain why visual experience feels the way it does, perhaps even why some things seem beautiful and others displeasing.

"In a sense, artists are neuroscientists, experimenting with shape and color, trying to evoke unique, powerful responses from the visual brain," Connor said.

As a first step toward this neuroaesthetic question, the Connor laboratory plans to collaborate with the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore to study human responses to sculptural shape. Gary Vikan, the Walters' director, is a strong believer in the power of neuroscience to inform the interpretation of art.

"My interest is in finding out what happens between a visitor's brain and a work of art," said Vikan. "Knowing what effect art has on patrons' brains will contribute to techniques of display -- lighting and color and arrangement -- that will enhance their experiences when they come into the museum."

The plan is to let museum patrons view a series of computer-generated 3-D shapes and rate them aesthetically. The same computer algorithm will be used to guide evolution of these shapes; in this case, based on aesthetic preference.

If this experiment can identify artistically powerful structural motifs, the next step would be to study how those motifs are represented at the neural level.

"Some researchers speculate that evolution determines what kinds of shapes and such our brains find pleasing," Vikan said. "In other words, perhaps we are hard-wired to prefer certain things. This collaboration with the Mind-Brain Institute at Johns Hopkins could help us begin to understand that in more depth."

This work was supported by the National Institutes of Health.


Story Source:

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


Journal Reference:

  1. Yamane et al. A neural code for three-dimensional object shape in macaque inferotemporal cortex. Nature Neuroscience, 2008; DOI: 10.1038/nn.2202

Cite This Page:

Johns Hopkins University. "How We See Objects In Depth: Brain's Code For 3-D Structure." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 28 October 2008. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/10/081027140825.htm>.
Johns Hopkins University. (2008, October 28). How We See Objects In Depth: Brain's Code For 3-D Structure. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 30, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/10/081027140825.htm
Johns Hopkins University. "How We See Objects In Depth: Brain's Code For 3-D Structure." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/10/081027140825.htm (accessed October 30, 2014).

Share This



More Mind & Brain News

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Techy Tots Are Forefront of London's Baby Show

Techy Tots Are Forefront of London's Baby Show

AP (Oct. 28, 2014) Moms and Dads get a more hands-on approach to parenting with tech-centric products for raising their little ones. (Oct. 28) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Cocoa Could Be As Good For Memory As It Is For A Sweet Tooth

Cocoa Could Be As Good For Memory As It Is For A Sweet Tooth

Newsy (Oct. 27, 2014) Researchers have come up with another reason why dark chocolate is good for your health. A substance in the treat can reportedly help with memory. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Five-Year-Olds Learn Coding as Britain Eyes Digital Future

Five-Year-Olds Learn Coding as Britain Eyes Digital Future

AFP (Oct. 27, 2014) Coding has become compulsory for children as young as five in schools across the UK. Making it the first major world economy to overhaul its IT teaching and put programming at its core. Duration: 02:19 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Academic Scandal Shocks UNC

Academic Scandal Shocks UNC

AP (Oct. 23, 2014) A scandal involving bogus classes and inflated grades at the University of North Carolina was bigger than previously reported, a new investigation found. (Oct. 23) 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:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Health & Medicine

Mind & Brain

Living & Well

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