AANS Neurosurgeon | Volume 26, Number 4, 2017

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The Brain Perceives Motion the Same Way Through Both Vision and Touch

Research published in the journal PLOS ONE found that the brain uses similar computations to calculate the direction and speed of objects in motion whether they are perceived visually or through the sense of touch. The notion that the brain uses shared calculations to interpret information from fundamentally different physical inputs has important implications for both basic and applied neuroscience, and suggests a powerful organizing principle for sensory perception. In experiments using so-called plaid stimuli, crisscrossing diagonal patterns presented either visually or etched onto a plate for tactile feedback, researchers tracked the neuronal responses of human participants and primates. Both researchers showed that similar computations could be used to represent how subjects interpreted movement of objects through space and time. The researchers suggest that these two senses developed a common representation of motion because they coexist in a world in which, in many cases, we perceive objects through both vision and touch at the same time. When a cup you are holding slips from your grasp, for example, it is far more efficient to use a shared language to represent the movement you see as if falls — and feel as it slips through your fingers — than two separate ones. Further understanding of this canonical language, explained researchers, gives the scientific community a foundation for understanding how the brain perceives the world as a whole, through multiple senses. To read more about this study, click here.

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