Important brain area organized by color and orientation

Nov 16, 2010

A brain area known to play a critical role in vision is divided into compartments that respond separately to different colors and orientations, Vanderbilt University researchers have discovered. The findings have important implications for furthering our understanding of perception and attention.

The research was published Nov. 14, 2010, in .

"In vision, objects are defined by both their shape and their surface properties, such as color and brightness. For example, to identify a red apple, your visual system must process both the shape of the apple and its color," Anna Roe, professor of psychology and co-author of the new research, said. "Our study showed that in V4, which is a area that plays a role in visual object recognition, there is significant segregation of color/brightness and shape processing regions.

"We also found that processing regions come in different flavors," she continued. "There are color processing domains, for example, for purple, green and yellow. Shape processing domains come with preference for different orientations, such as horizontal or vertical. This is a functional segregation that has never been seen before in V4."

The researchers made their discovery by examining V4 in awake . V4 was already known to play a key role in shape and , but uncertainty about its organization has led to debates among researchers about the overall role it plays in vision.

"One reason this segregation is important relates to visual . For example, in your multicolored world, you can easily pick out a purple object if you're looking for it. How does your brain direct your attention to only purple? The fact that there are purple domains in V4 that are distinct from green or yellow domains gives us a handle on the specificity with which we can focus our attention," Roe said. "These domain-based ideas about how attention is implemented in the brain are exciting directions that we are currently investigating."

The researchers speculate the compartmentalization may reflect groups of neurons that are processing more complex aspects of color and form, such as integrating different contours that are the same color, to achieve overall shape perception.

Though V4 is segregated, the different areas do work together to process information.

"Functional segregation does not mean that shape and surface information do not interact. What it means is that there are distinct circuits for color vs. shape," Roe said.

The researchers obtained their data by using novel imaging methods that will open up new ways of studying cognitive functions such as attention and memory and new ways to study behavior. The team is the first to be able to obtain images that allow the viewer to see the different cortical organizations in awake, behaving monkeys.

Explore further: Study links enzyme to autistic behaviors

Related Stories

Finding our color center

Nov 01, 2010

The colorful Australian film Strictly Ballroom has been used in a breakthrough scientific experiment to locate the colour processing center in the human brain.

Study: Color plays role in perception

Apr 19, 2006

U.S. scientists have discovered a neural circuit they say is likely to play an important role in the visual perception of moving objects.

Yes, we have no blue bananas

Oct 19, 2006

German scientists say color perception depends not only on an object's pigmentation but also on our knowledge of what the object should look like.

The time it takes to reassemble the world

Jan 24, 2007

A few glimpses are enough to perceive a seamless and richly detailed visual world. But instead of "photographic snapshots”, information about the color, shape and motion of an object is pulled apart and sent ...

Eyes on the prize

Dec 24, 2008

Dollar signs for eyes - cartoonists have been drawing them for years, and the artists, while whimsical, may have been onto something. According to new research from UC San Diego, areas of the brain responsible ...

Recommended for you

Study links enzyme to autistic behaviors

17 hours ago

Fragile X syndrome (FXS) is a genetic disorder that causes obsessive-compulsive and repetitive behaviors, and other behaviors on the autistic spectrum, as well as cognitive deficits. It is the most common ...

A new cause of mental disease?

22 hours ago

Astrocytes, the cells that make the background of the brain and support neurons, might be behind mental disorders such as depression and schizophrenia, according to new research by a Portuguese team from ...

Molecular basis of age-related memory loss explained

Jul 22, 2014

From telephone numbers to foreign vocabulary, our brains hold a seemingly endless supply of information. However, as we are getting older, our ability to learn and remember new things declines. A team of ...

The neurochemistry of addiction

Jul 22, 2014

We've all heard the term "addictive personality," and many of us know individuals who are consistently more likely to take the extra drink or pill that puts them over the edge. But the specific balance of ...

User comments : 0