Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Researchers find causality in the eye of the beholder

Date:
January 10, 2013
Source:
New York University
Summary:
We rely on our visual system more heavily than previously thought in determining the causality of events. A team of researchers has shown that, in making judgments about causality, we don't always need to use cognitive reasoning. In some cases, our visual brain -- the brain areas that process what the eyes sense -- can make these judgments rapidly and automatically.

We rely on our visual system more heavily than previously thought in determining the causality of events. A team of researchers has shown that, in making judgments about causality, we don't always need to use cognitive reasoning. In some cases, our visual brain -- the brain areas that process what the eyes sense -- can make these judgments rapidly and automatically.

The study appears in the latest issue of the journal Current Biology.

"Our study reveals that causality can be computed at an early level in the visual system," said Martin Rolfs, who conducted much of the research as a post-doctoral fellow in NYU's Department of Psychology. "This finding ends a long-standing debate over how some visual events are processed: we show that our eyes can quickly make assessments about cause-and-effect -- without the help of our cognitive systems."

Rolfs is currently a research group leader at the Bernstein Center for Computational Neuroscience and the Department of Psychology of Berlin's Humboldt University. The study's other co-authors were Michael Dambacher, post-doctoral researcher at the universities of Potsdam and Konstanz, and Patrick Cavanagh, professor at Universitι Paris Descartes.

We frequently make rapid judgments of causality ("The ball knocked the glass off the table"), animacy ("Look out, that thing is alive!"), or intention ("He meant to help her"). These judgments are complex enough that many believe that substantial cognitive reasoning is required -- we need our brains to tell us what our eyes have seen. However, some judgments are so rapid and effortless that they "feel" perceptual -- we can make them using only our visual systems, with no thinking required.

It is not yet clear which judgments require significant cognitive processing and which may be mediated solely by our visual system. In the Current Biology study, the researchers investigated one of these -- causality judgments -- in an effort to better understand the division of labor between visual and cognitive processes.

Their experiments centered on isolating how we perceive causality -- i.e., where one event apparently triggers the next. The perception of causality generally involves two components, one that is stimulus based and one that is inference based. First, to see causal structure between two events, these events need to follow each other with little delay and typically require contact -- for instance, a glass immediately falling off a table after being knocked over. This is the stimulus-based component of perceptual causality.

The second component is an inference by which two events are merged into one: rather than seeing one object stopping and a second one starting on its own, there is a continuity of action that is transferred from the first object to the second -- just as in billiards where one ball transfers its motion to another ball.

To test how the brain determines causality, the researchers used an "adaptation" procedure that is often employed to uncover neural mechanisms through visual after-effects -- changes in what observers see. The visual system has been shown to quickly change sensitivity to stimuli that are continuously presented: after staring at a red spot continuously, a white wall will appear to have a greenish spot; after seeing a texture moving up continuously, a stationary wall will appear to move down.

Using this adaptation approach in a series of experiments, the researchers found that repeated exposure to the causal events -- collisions -- test events appeared less causal. Conversely, adapting to non-causal events had little effect. These findings indicate that certain causal judgments show the classic properties of visual processing (i.e., adaptation) and appear to be determined in the visual system without input from cognition. Notably, their experimental results showed that the after-effects moved when the eyes moved, just as the green after-image from adapting to red moves when we move our eyes. Only visual and no cognitive processes would show this specificity to eye-centered reference frame.

The finding, the researchers concluded, provides strong evidence that in some cases, the understanding of action -- causality, animacy, and intention -- is encoded on a perceptual level rather than on a cognitive one.

The study was supported by grants from the EU Seventh Framework Programme (Marie Curie IOF 235625), the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (RO 3579/2-1, FOR868/1), the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (FKZ 01GQ1001A), and the Agence Nationale de la Recherche Chaire d'Excellence.


Story Source:

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


Journal Reference:

  1. Martin Rolfs, Michael Dambacher, and Patrick Cavanagh. Visual Adaptation of the Perception of Causality. Current Biology, 2013; DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2012.12.017

Cite This Page:

New York University. "Researchers find causality in the eye of the beholder." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 10 January 2013. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/01/130110121028.htm>.
New York University. (2013, January 10). Researchers find causality in the eye of the beholder. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 29, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/01/130110121028.htm
New York University. "Researchers find causality in the eye of the beholder." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/01/130110121028.htm (accessed July 29, 2014).

Share This




More Mind & Brain News

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Losing Sleep Leaves You Vulnerable To 'False Memories'

Losing Sleep Leaves You Vulnerable To 'False Memories'

Newsy (July 27, 2014) — A new study shows sleep deprivation can make it harder for people to remember specific details of an event. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
University Quiz Implies Atheists Are Smarter Than Christians

University Quiz Implies Atheists Are Smarter Than Christians

Newsy (July 25, 2014) — An online quiz from a required course at Ohio State is making waves for suggesting atheists are inherently smarter than Christians. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Beatings and Addiction: Pakistan Drug 'clinic' Tortures Patients

Beatings and Addiction: Pakistan Drug 'clinic' Tortures Patients

AFP (July 24, 2014) — A so-called drugs rehab 'clinic' is closed down in Pakistan after police find scores of ‘patients’ chained up alleging serial abuse. Duration 03:05 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
New Painkiller Designed To Discourage Abuse: Will It Work?

New Painkiller Designed To Discourage Abuse: Will It Work?

Newsy (July 24, 2014) — The FDA approved Targiniq ER on Wednesday, a painkiller designed to keep users from abusing it. Like any new medication, however, it has doubters. Video provided by Newsy
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