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Researchers Identify Brain Regions that Help us See

Update Date: Feb 04, 2013 08:27 AM EST

Researchers have now found the key areas of the brain that help humans assess the orientation and shape of an object, proving new insight on how we "see" things.

The study conducted by researchers from Department of Psychology at York and the Bradford School of Optometry & Vision Science found that two areas of the brain located near the cortex independently process the visual stimuli received from the eye.

"Our work demonstrates how processing of different aspects of visual objects, such as orientation and shape, occurs in different brain areas that lie side by side. The ultimate challenge will be to reveal how this information is combined across these and other brain areas and how it ultimately leads to object recognition," said Dr. Declan McKeefry, of the Bradford School of Optometry and Vision Science at the University of Bradford.

Researchers pinpointed the exact location of the areas responsible for letting us know the orientation and shape of the things by subjecting the brains of a group of volunteers to MRI scans. Certain areas of the brains of the volunteers were shut down temporarily during the study, to enable researchers identify the areas that process visual information.

Professor Tony Morland, of York's Department of Psychology and the Hull York Medical School, explained how disrupting certain signals in the brain can give vital clues about the functions of the brain regions.

"Historically, neuropsychologists have found out a lot about the human brain by examining people who have had permanent disruption of certain parts of the brain because of injury to it. Unfortunately, brain damage seldom occurs at the spatial scale that allows the function of small neighbouring areas to be understood. Our approach is to temporarily disrupt brain activity by applying brief magnetic fields. When these fields are applied to one, small area of the brain, we find that orientation tasks are harder, while disrupting activity in this area's nearest neighbour only affected the ability to perceive shapes," Morland said in a news release.

The study is published in the journal Nature Neuroscience. 

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