Scientists shed new light on how the brain processes & maintains what we don't see

December 07, 2016

A team of scientists has mapped out how our brains process visuals we don't even know we've seen, indicating that the neuronal encoding and maintenance of subliminal images is more substantial than previously thought.

"Our results indicate that what is 'invisible' to the naked eye can, in fact, be encoded and briefly stored by our brain," observes Jean-Rémi King, a postdoctoral fellow in NYU's Department of Psychology and one of the researchers.

The co-authors of study, which appears in the journal Neuron, also include Niccolo Pescetelli, a doctoral student at the University of Oxford, and Stanislas Dehaene, a professor at Collège de France.

In their study, human subjects viewed a series of quickly flashed images, and reported which ones they saw and which they could not see, while their brain activity was monitored using magnetoencephalography (MEG)--a non-invasive neuroimaging technique which makes, at every millisecond, multiple measurements of the tiny magnetic fields generated by the neuronal activity. Critically, the authors developed machine learning algorithms to decode the content of these images directly from these large and complex neuroimaging data.

These new algorithms allowed the authors to confirm a series of theoretical predictions. In particular, they reveal a striking dissociation between the dynamics of "objective" (i.e. the visual information presented to the eyes) and "subjective" neural representations (i.e. what subjects report having seen). However, and contrarily to theoretical predictions, the authors also showed that invisible images can be partially maintained within high-level regions of the brain.

"Undoubtedly, these results suggest that our current understanding of the neural mechanisms of conscious perception may need to be revised," notes King, who also holds an appointment at the Frankfurt Institute for Advanced Studies (FIAS). "However, beyond our empirical findings, this study demonstrates that machine learning tools can be remarkably powerful at decoding neuronal activity from MEG recordings--a preview of what we can uncover about the workings of the brain."
-end-
This project received funding from the European Union's Horizon 2020 research and innovation program (grant agreement No. 660086), INSERM, CEA, Collège de France, the Direction Générale de l'Armement, the Bettencourt Schueller Foundation, the Fondation Roger de Spoelberch, and the Philippe Foundation.

New York University

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.