The scientific brain: Human brain processes predictable sensory input in particularly efficient manner

Mar 10, 2010
The brain does not predict the unpredictable: The sight of bars apparently moving from bottom left to top right (dotted line) evokes activity in the primary visual cortex (V1). Right: in the upper part of the image, the test stimulus (a white-framed bar) is presented in such a manner that it is integrated into the motion of the white bars. In contrast, the brain does not predict the appearance of the test stimulus in the lower part of the image. This test stimulus is presented with a certain time delay, so that the motion direction appears to be interrupted. Image detail bottom left: the activity in V1 is significantly higher for the unexpected test stimulus (brown graph) than for the expected test stimulus (blue graph). Image: Max Planck Institute for Brain Research

(PhysOrg.com) -- It turns out that there is a striking similarity between how the human brain determines what is going on in the outside world and the job of scientists. Good science involves formulating a hypothesis and testing whether this hypothesis is compatible with the scientist’s observations. Researchers in the Max Planck Institute for Brain Research in Frankfurt together with the University of Glasgow have shown that this is what the brain does as well. A study shows that it takes less effort for the brain to register predictable as compared to unpredictable images. (Journal of Neuroscience, February 24th, 2010)

Alink and colleagues based this conclusion on the characteristics of responses in the primary visual cortex. It is known that the is critical for vision and that responses in this area create a map of what we are currently looking at. Alink and colleagues, however, for the first time show that images induce smaller responses in this area when they are predictable. The implication of this finding is that the brain does not just sit and wait for visual signals to arrive. Instead, it actively tries to predict these signals and when it is right it is rewarded by being able to respond more efficiently. If it is wrong, massive responses are required to find out why it is wrong and to come up with better predictions.

One implication of this study is that when you enter the office the image of your colleague at his desk, who has the annoying trait of always being there before you, will require very little effort for your brain to register. The image of your mother in law sitting on the same chair, however, would make your brain go haywire. Not necessarily because you are not fond of this person but because this image makes it clear to your brain that it is doing a lousy job at predicting what is going to happen next and that it will have to make an effort to improve its predictions. This suggests that the brain’s main job, alike that of a scientist, is to generate hypotheses about what is going on in the outside world.

The study represents a significant advance in understanding how the brain supports . An important implication of this study is that visual perception depends on an active generation of predictions. This stands in contrast to the classical view that visual perception mainly results from a more passive cascade of responses to visual signals spreading through the brain.

Further research is still required to determine whether indeed we are all carrying along a little scientist in our head. At present the idea of the scientific brain is rapidly spreading through the neuroscience community and provides a novel approach to resolving how the most complex organ of the human body works.

Explore further: Long-term effects of battle-related 'blast plus impact' concussive TBI in US military

More information: Alink A, Schwiedrzik CM, Kohler A, Singer W, Muckli L. Stimulus predictability reduces responses in primary visual cortex. Journal of Neuroscience, February 24th, 2010; 30(8):2960-6

Related Stories

Picower research finds unexpected activity in visual cortex

Mar 16, 2006

For years, neural activity in the brain's visual cortex was thought to have only one job: to create visual perceptions. A new study by researchers at MIT's Picower Institute for Learning and Memory shows that visual cortical ...

Seeing color in 'blindsight'

Oct 27, 2008

By manipulating the brain noninvasively in a new way with magnetic stimulation, researchers have shown that they can restore some experience of color where before there was no visual awareness whatsoever. They report their ...

Wired for sound: How the brain senses visual illusions

Apr 11, 2007

In a study that could help reveal how illusions are produced in the brain's visual cortex, researchers at the UCSD School of Medicine have found new evidence of rapid integration of auditory and visual sensations in the brain. ...

Shape encoding may start in the retina

Sep 12, 2007

New evidence from the University of Southern California suggests that there may be dedicated cells in the retina that help compile small bits of information in order to recognize objects. The research was conducted by Ernest ...

Study: How the Brain Makes a Whole out of Parts

Jan 18, 2006

When a human looks at a number, letter or other shape, neurons in various areas of the brain's visual center respond to different components of that shape, almost instantaneously fitting them together like a puzzle to create ...

Recommended for you

Turning off depression in the brain

14 hours ago

Scientists have traced vulnerability to depression-like behaviors in mice to out-of-balance electrical activity inside neurons of the brain's reward circuit and experimentally reversed it – but there's ...

Rapid whole-brain imaging with single cell resolution

15 hours ago

A major challenge of systems biology is understanding how phenomena at the cellular scale correlate with activity at the organism level. A concerted effort has been made especially in the brain, as scientists are aiming to ...

User comments : 4

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Jeswin
not rated yet Mar 10, 2010
Darwinian evolution anyone?
Sciencebee
not rated yet Mar 10, 2010
I listened to a book titled On Intelligence a while ago. The author was basically arguing that the brain is one big prediction machine. In other words the way the human brain works is by prediction, according to him. Anyway, this made me think of that and I thought it was interesting.
frajo
not rated yet Mar 11, 2010
Was the test person a scientist?
droid001
not rated yet Mar 11, 2010
Does this mean that we are not holograms?
World is real?

More news stories

Leeches help save woman's ear after pit bull mauling

(HealthDay)—A pit bull attack in July 2013 left a 19-year-old woman with her left ear ripped from her head, leaving an open wound. After preserving the ear, the surgical team started with a reconnection ...

Scientists tether lionfish to Cayman reefs

Research done by U.S. scientists in the Cayman Islands suggests that native predators can be trained to gobble up invasive lionfish that colonize regional reefs and voraciously prey on juvenile marine creatures.

Venture investments jump to $9.5B in 1Q

Funding for U.S. startup companies soared 57 percent in the first quarter to a level not seen since 2001, as venture capitalists piled more money into an increasing number of deals, according to a report due out Friday.

White House updating online privacy policy

A new Obama administration privacy policy out Friday explains how the government will gather the user data of online visitors to WhiteHouse.gov, mobile apps and social media sites. It also clarifies that ...