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Psychologist finds instance where 'two wrongs do make a right'

EUGENE, Ore. -- A trusted mental map of your surroundings turns out to be slightly misaligned, skewing your orientation. Your ability to control the direction in which you move is similarly compromised, although in a manner opposite the map's offset. Taken together, the errors cancel one another, and you end up exactly where you want to be. Contrary to the proverb, two wrongs do make a right.

This exception is the rule when it comes to how our brain processes what our eyes see and where our body moves, according to a discovery by University of Oregon researchers Paul Dassonville and Jagdeep Kaur Bala that will appear in the November issue of the journal PLoS Biology.

Their study, funded by the National Science Foundation, challenged a dominant theory of how the brain processes vision. The theory holds that information from the eyes separates into two distinct streams: one to simply represent where we see things in the environment, and another to guide the physical movements of our body within that environment. Both processes have been thought to depend largely on accessing distinct maps of the environment within the brain, representing objects from varying locations in our field of vision by systematically varying activity in corresponding regions of the brain.

"It's starting to look like the distinction between perception and action streams is an oversimplification," says Dassonville, an assistant professor of psychology. "There appear to be as many as 40 different visual areas, many of which contain some type of spatial map, each with its own idiosyncratic pattern of errors. Different tasks draw on different subsets of maps."

To untangle these error-prone maps, the researchers employed an illusion known as the induced Roelofs effect. People were briefly shown a bright spot, surrounded by a large rectangular frame, and were asked to say where they thought the spot appeared. If the frame was shifted to the observer's right or left, th
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Contact: Melody Ward Leslie
mleslie@uoregon.edu
541-346-2060
University of Oregon
25-Oct-2004


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