Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

All things big and small: The brain's discerning taste for size

Date:
June 20, 2012
Source:
Massachusetts Institute of Technology, CSAIL
Summary:
The brain organizes objects based on their physical size, with a specific region of the brain reserved for recognizing large objects and another reserved for small objects, according to a new article. These findings could have major implications for fields like robotics, and could lead to a greater understanding of how the brain organizes and maps information.

This figure shows brain activations while participants view pictures of large and small objects.
Credit: Image courtesy of Massachusetts Institute of Technology, CSAIL

The human brain can recognize thousands of different objects, but neuroscientists have long grappled with how the brain organizes object representation; in other words, how the brain perceives and identifies different objects. Now researchers at the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab (CSAIL) and the MIT Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences have discovered that the brain organizes objects based on their physical size, with a specific region of the brain reserved for recognizing large objects and another reserved for small objects.

Their findings, to be published in the June 21 issue of Neuron, could have major implications for fields like robotics, and could lead to a greater understanding of how the brain organizes and maps information.

"Prior to this study, nobody had looked at whether the size of an object was an important factor in the brain's ability to recognize it," said Aude Oliva, an associate professor in the MIT Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences and senior author of the study.

"It's almost obvious that all objects in the world have a physical size, but the importance of this factor is surprisingly easy to miss when you study objects by looking at pictures of them on a computer screen," said Dr. Talia Konkle, lead author of the paper. "We pick up small things with our fingers, we use big objects to support our bodies. How we interact with objects in the world is deeply and intrinsically tied to their real-world size, and this matters for how our brain's visual system organizes object information."

As part of their study, Konkle and Oliva took 3D scans of brain activity during experiments in which participants were asked to look at images of big and small objects or visualize items of differing size. By evaluating the scans, the researchers found that there are distinct regions of the brain that respond to big objects (for example, a chair or a table), and small objects (for example, a paperclip or a strawberry).

By looking at the arrangement of the responses, they found a systematic organization of big to small object responses across the brain's cerebral cortex. Large objects, they learned, are processed in the parahippocampal region of the brain, an area located by the hippocampus, which is also responsible for navigating through spaces and for processing the location of different places, like the beach or a building. Small objects are handled in the inferior temporal region of the brain, near regions that are active when the brain has to manipulate tools like a hammer or a screwdriver.

The work could have major implications for the field of robotics, in particular in developing techniques for how robots deal with different objects, from grasping a pen to sitting in a chair.

"Our findings shed light on the geography of the human brain, and could provide insight into developing better machine interfaces for robots," said Oliva.

Many computer vision techniques currently focus on identifying what an object is without much guidance about the size of the object, which could be useful in recognition. "Paying attention to the physical size of objects may dramatically constrain the number of objects a robot has to consider when trying to identify what it is seeing," said Oliva.

The study's findings are also important for understanding how the organization of the brain may have evolved. The work of Konkle and Oliva suggests that the human visual system's method for organizing thousands of objects may also be tied to human interactions with the world. "If experience in the world has shaped our brain organization over time, and our behavior depends on how big objects are, it makes sense that the brain may have established different processing channels for different actions, and at the center of these may be size," said Konkle.

Oliva, a cognitive neuroscientist by training, has focused much of her research on how the brain tackles scene and object recognition, as well as visual memory. Her ultimate goal is to gain a better understanding of the brain's visual processes, paving the way for the development of machines and interfaces that can see and understand the visual world like humans do.

"Ultimately, we want to focus on how active observers move in the natural world. We think this not only matters for large-scale brain organization of the visual system, but it also matters for making machines that can see like us," said Konkle and Oliva.

This research was funded by a National Science Foundation Graduate Fellowship, and a National Eye Institute grant, and was conducted at the Athinoula A. Martinos Imaging Center at McGovern Institute for Brain Research, MIT.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Massachusetts Institute of Technology, CSAIL. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

Massachusetts Institute of Technology, CSAIL. "All things big and small: The brain's discerning taste for size." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 20 June 2012. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/06/120620133306.htm>.
Massachusetts Institute of Technology, CSAIL. (2012, June 20). All things big and small: The brain's discerning taste for size. ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 21, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/06/120620133306.htm
Massachusetts Institute of Technology, CSAIL. "All things big and small: The brain's discerning taste for size." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/06/120620133306.htm (accessed September 21, 2014).

Share This



More Mind & Brain News

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Could Grief Affect The Immune Systems Of Senior Citizens?

Could Grief Affect The Immune Systems Of Senior Citizens?

Newsy (Sep. 19, 2014) The study found elderly people are much more likely to become susceptible to infection than younger adults going though a similar situation. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Food Addiction Might Be Caused By PTSD

Food Addiction Might Be Caused By PTSD

Newsy (Sep. 18, 2014) New research shows that women who suffer from PTSD are three times more likely to develop a food addiction. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Corporal Punishment on Decline, Debate Renews

Corporal Punishment on Decline, Debate Renews

AP (Sep. 16, 2014) Corporal punishment in the United States is on the decline, but there is renewed debate over its use after Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson was charged with child abuse. (Sept. 16) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
FDA Eyes Skin Shocks Used at Mass. School

FDA Eyes Skin Shocks Used at Mass. School

AP (Sep. 15, 2014) The FDA is considering whether to ban devices used by the Judge Rotenberg Educational Center in Canton, Massachusetts, the only place in the country known to use electrical skin shocks as aversive conditioning for aggressive patients. (Sept. 15) 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