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Perception is stored in single neurones

Perception is something that must be learned. As we recognize things in our environment we gather experience and this experience in turn colours our perception. This is nothing new, of course. But brain researchers are going one step further to ask how different kinds of information are integrated in the brain and what principles govern how perceived objects are represented there. Scientists at Tuebingen's Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics have carried out experiments that prove for the first time that single nerve cells in the brain are responsible for controlling our perception by drawing on prior experience. They report their findings in the latest issue of the journal "nature" (nature, January 17, 2002).

Our perception of objects depends on our prior experience with them. What most people would call a bird is "obviously" a sparrow, sandpiper, or cockatiel for a birdwatcher. Expertise sharpens our ability to notice details. The more we learn about objects and the more familiar they become, the more details we recognize. Thus, we continue to make generalizations, but these generalizations get better and more accurate all the time.

A research group at the Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics has studied what happens in the brain when we familiarize ourselves with objects. To do this they first taught rhesus monkeys to categorize objects according to specific features. Monkeys are ideal subjects for such experiments, for they are able to master a variety of visual categorization tasks and the organization of their visual system is strikingly similar to that of humans.

While the Tbingen monkeys were "working" the scientists observed the activity of neurones in a special area of the brain called the "inferior temporal cortex" (ITC). Today we know that this area is responsible for the recognition of objects. The researchers asked how a special training program for object categorization would affect h
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Contact: Dr. Nikos Logothetis
nikos.logothetis@tuebingen.mpg.de
49 -7071-601-651
Max-Planck-Gesellschaft
18-Jan-2002


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