Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

JPEG for the mind: How the brain compresses visual information

Date:
February 11, 2011
Source:
Johns Hopkins University
Summary:
Scientists take the next step in next step in understanding how the brain compresses huge "files" of visual information down to the essentials.

Most of us are familiar with the idea of image compression in computers. File extensions like ." jpg" or ." png" signify that millions of pixel values have been compressed into a more efficient format, reducing file size by a factor of 10 or more with little or no apparent change in image quality. The full set of original pixel values would occupy too much space in computer memory and take too long to transmit across networks.

Related Articles


The brain is faced with a similar problem. The images captured by light-sensitive cells in the retina are on the order of a megapixel. The brain does not have the transmission or memory capacity to deal with a lifetime of megapixel images. Instead, the brain must select out only the most vital information for understanding the visual world.

In the February 10 online issue of Current Biology, a Johns Hopkins team led by neuroscientists Ed Connor and Kechen Zhang describes what appears to be the next step in understanding how the brain compresses visual information down to the essentials.

They found that cells in area "V4," a midlevel stage in the primate brain's object vision pathway, are highly selective for image regions containing acute curvature. Experiments by doctoral student Eric Carlson showed that V4 cells are very responsive to sharply curved or angled edges, and much less responsive to flat edges or shallow curves.

To understand how selectivity for acute curvature might help with compression of visual information, co-author Russell Rasquinha (now at University of Toronto) created a computer model of hundreds of V4-like cells, training them on thousands of natural object images. After training, each image evoked responses from a large proportion of the virtual V4 cells -- the opposite of a compressed format. And, somewhat surprisingly, these virtual V4 cells responded mostly to flat edges and shallow curvatures, just the opposite of what was observed for real V4 cells.

The results were quite different when the model was trained to limit the number of virtual V4 cells responding to each image. As this limit on responsive cells was tightened, the selectivity of the cells shifted from shallow to acute curvature. The tightest limit produced an eight-fold decrease in the number of cells responding to each image, comparable to the file size reduction achieved by compressing photographs into the .jpeg format. At this level, the computer model produced the same strong bias toward high curvature observed in the real V4 cells.

Why would focusing on acute curvature regions produce such savings? Because, as the group's analyses showed, high-curvature regions are relatively rare in natural objects, compared to flat and shallow curvature. Responding to rare features rather than common features is automatically economical.

Despite the fact that they are relatively rare, high-curvature regions are very useful for distinguishing and recognizing objects, said Connor, a professor in the Solomon H. Snyder Department of Neuroscience in the School of Medicine, and director of the Zanvyl Krieger Mind/Brain Institute.

"Psychological experiments have shown that subjects can still recognize line drawings of objects when flat edges are erased. But erasing angles and other regions of high curvature makes recognition difficult," he explained

Brain mechanisms such as the V4 coding scheme described by Connor and colleagues help explain why we are all visual geniuses.

"Computers can beat us at math and chess," said Connor, "but they can't match our ability to distinguish, recognize, understand, remember, and manipulate the objects that make up our world." This core human ability depends in part on condensing visual information to a tractable level. For now, at least, the .brain format seems to be the best compression algorithm around.


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. Eric T. Carlson, Russell J. Rasquinha, Kechen Zhang and Charles E. Connor. A Sparse Object Coding Scheme in Area V4. Current Biology, (in press) DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2011.01.013

Cite This Page:

Johns Hopkins University. "JPEG for the mind: How the brain compresses visual information." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 11 February 2011. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/02/110210164155.htm>.
Johns Hopkins University. (2011, February 11). JPEG for the mind: How the brain compresses visual information. ScienceDaily. Retrieved December 18, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/02/110210164155.htm
Johns Hopkins University. "JPEG for the mind: How the brain compresses visual information." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/02/110210164155.htm (accessed December 18, 2014).

Share This


More From ScienceDaily



More Mind & Brain News

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Yoga Could Be As Beneficial For The Heart As Walking, Biking

Yoga Could Be As Beneficial For The Heart As Walking, Biking

Newsy (Dec. 17, 2014) Yoga can help your weight, blood pressure, cholesterol and heart just as much as biking and walking does, a new study suggests. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
1st Responders Trained for Autism Sensitivity

1st Responders Trained for Autism Sensitivity

AP (Dec. 16, 2014) More departments are ordering their first responders to sit in on training sessions that focus on how to more effectively interact with those with autism spectrum disorder (Dec. 16) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Guys Are Idiots, According To Sarcastic Study

Guys Are Idiots, According To Sarcastic Study

Newsy (Dec. 12, 2014) A study out of Britain suggest men are more idiotic than women based on the rate of accidental deaths and other factors. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Believing in Father Christmas Good for Children's Imaginations

Believing in Father Christmas Good for Children's Imaginations

AFP (Dec. 12, 2014) As the countdown to Christmas gets underway, so too does the Father Christmas conspiracy. But psychologists say that telling our children about Santa, flying reindeer and elves is good for their imaginations. Duration: 01:57 Video provided by AFP
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