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Under the surface, the brain seethes with undiscovered activity

Movies capture the visual elements that are present in the real world. For instance, as Keanu's hand moves across the screen for a karate chop, the image of the hand and all the lines and color it represents moves across a viewer's visual realm essentially the same way it would in real life. By contrast, the enlarged static--blocks of random black and white--has no such motion. Weliky was able to graph the movie-motion statistically, showing essentially how objects move in the visual field.

The test was then to see if there was any relationship between the statistical motion of the movie and the way visual neurons in the ferrets fired. Each visual neuron is keyed to respond to certain visual elements, such as a vertical line, that appears in a specific area of the ferret's vision. A great number of these cells combine to process an image of many lines, colors, etc. By watching the patterns of how these cells fired while watching The Matrix, Weliky could describe the pattern statistically, and match those statistics of how the ferret responded to the film with the statistics of the actual visual aspects of the film.

Weliky found two surprises. First, while the neurons of adult ferrets statistically seemed to respond similarly to the statistics of the film itself, younger ferrets had almost no relationship. This suggests that though the young ferrets are taking in and processing visual stimuli, they're not processing the stimuli in a way that reflects reality.

"You might think of this as a sort of dyslexia," explains Weliky. "It may be that in very young brains, the processing takes place in a way that's not necessarily disordered, but not analogous to how we understand reality to be. It's thought that dyslexia works somewhat like this--that some parts of the brain process written words in an unusual way and seem to make beginnings of words appear at their ends and vice versa. Infant brains may see the entire world the same way, as a mass of d
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Contact: Jonathan Sherwood
jonathan.sherwood@rochester.edu
585-273-4726
University of Rochester
8-Oct-2004


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