A visual nudge can disrupt recall of what things look like

August 26, 2016

MADISON, Wis. -- Interfering with your vision makes it harder to describe what you know about the appearance of even common objects, according to researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

This connection between visual knowledge and visual perception challenges widely held theories that visual information about the world -- that alligators are green and have long tails, for example -- is stored abstractly, as a list of facts, divorced from the visual experience of seeing an alligator.

"We can perceive the world, and then know things about the world, and a lot of those things we learn through the senses," says Gary Lupyan, an associate professor of psychology at UW-Madison. "But once we learn them, do they still continue to depend on the senses? That seems to be the case."

Pierce Edmiston, a graduate student in Lupyan's lab, had volunteers answer questions that required them to quickly verify simple information about common objects.

Some of the knowledge he asked for was visual: Do alligators have tails? Are strawberries red? Do tables have a flat surface? And some was encyclopedic: Is a table furniture? Do alligators live in swamps? Are strawberries fruits?

While study volunteers answered these questions, Edmiston would deliver a burst of "visual interference" -- colorful static noise -- in an effort to disrupt the parts of the brain that process visual information.

"Visual interference selectively interrupted their ability to answer questions about the visual properties of objects. They had trouble trying to recall that kind of information," Edmiston says. "But it didn't change how good they were at accessing what they knew about the nonvisual properties of the same objects."

Previous studies exploring the recall of visual information typically employed brain scans showing visual circuitry in the brain activating when people were asked to recall what things look like.

"That suggested a connection between recalling visual knowledge and visual processing in the brain. But it didn't show that the visual processing centers were necessary -- just active," Edmiston says. "We've shown more than a connection. Visual processing appears necessary for recalling visual information because disrupting perception, even subtly, disrupts people's ability to report what something looks like."

Edmiston's study was published recently in the Journal of Memory and Language, and was funded in part by the National Science Foundation.

The effect of the visual interference on study participants was not large -- they were still able to answer the majority of the questions correctly -- but the way the researchers were able to knock the brain off-kilter may feel familiar.

"Many people, when they try to remember what someone or something looks like, stare off into space or onto a blank wall," says Lupyan. "These results provide a hint of why we might do this: By minimizing irrelevant visual information, we free our perceptual system to help us remember."
-end-
Chris Barncard, 608-890-0465, barncard@wisc.edu

DOWNLOAD VIDEO: http://go.wisc.edu/visual-information

University of Wisconsin-Madison

Related Brain Articles from Brightsurf:

Glioblastoma nanomedicine crosses into brain in mice, eradicates recurring brain cancer
A new synthetic protein nanoparticle capable of slipping past the nearly impermeable blood-brain barrier in mice could deliver cancer-killing drugs directly to malignant brain tumors, new research from the University of Michigan shows.

Children with asymptomatic brain bleeds as newborns show normal brain development at age 2
A study by UNC researchers finds that neurodevelopmental scores and gray matter volumes at age two years did not differ between children who had MRI-confirmed asymptomatic subdural hemorrhages when they were neonates, compared to children with no history of subdural hemorrhage.

New model of human brain 'conversations' could inform research on brain disease, cognition
A team of Indiana University neuroscientists has built a new model of human brain networks that sheds light on how the brain functions.

Human brain size gene triggers bigger brain in monkeys
Dresden and Japanese researchers show that a human-specific gene causes a larger neocortex in the common marmoset, a non-human primate.

Unique insight into development of the human brain: Model of the early embryonic brain
Stem cell researchers from the University of Copenhagen have designed a model of an early embryonic brain.

An optical brain-to-brain interface supports information exchange for locomotion control
Chinese researchers established an optical BtBI that supports rapid information transmission for precise locomotion control, thus providing a proof-of-principle demonstration of fast BtBI for real-time behavioral control.

Transplanting human nerve cells into a mouse brain reveals how they wire into brain circuits
A team of researchers led by Pierre Vanderhaeghen and Vincent Bonin (VIB-KU Leuven, Université libre de Bruxelles and NERF) showed how human nerve cells can develop at their own pace, and form highly precise connections with the surrounding mouse brain cells.

Brain scans reveal how the human brain compensates when one hemisphere is removed
Researchers studying six adults who had one of their brain hemispheres removed during childhood to reduce epileptic seizures found that the remaining half of the brain formed unusually strong connections between different functional brain networks, which potentially help the body to function as if the brain were intact.

Alcohol byproduct contributes to brain chemistry changes in specific brain regions
Study of mouse models provides clear implications for new targets to treat alcohol use disorder and fetal alcohol syndrome.

Scientists predict the areas of the brain to stimulate transitions between different brain states
Using a computer model of the brain, Gustavo Deco, director of the Center for Brain and Cognition, and Josephine Cruzat, a member of his team, together with a group of international collaborators, have developed an innovative method published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on Sept.

Read More: Brain News and Brain Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.