Finding our color center

November 1, 2010, University of Sydney
Strictly Ballroom's color and movement made it perfect for this study.

The colorful Australian film Strictly Ballroom has been used in a breakthrough scientific experiment to locate the colour processing center in the human brain.

The unconventional method helped researchers at The Vision Centre to find regions of the brain that respond particularly strongly to color.

Their work could in future help in the treatment of patients who have become color blind due to brain injuries or a stroke.

"In non-human primates there's a proposed 'color processing centre' called V4. But those who've asked 'where is V4 in the human brain?' have come up with different results," says Erin Goddard, a researcher in the ARC Centre of Excellence for Vision Science and the University of Sydney.

"We decided to pick visual cues that are more natural, with lots of colours, movement and different types of objects, in preference to the usual equipment of colored dots and squares. That's why we chose Strictly Ballroom - because, as a movie, there's a lot going on visually that will engage the brain, and, in light of the subject matter, it has a lot of vivid colors."

The research method involved putting people in a functional and taking images of blood flow in their brains. During the scanning process, a short sequence of Strictly Ballroom was played, with the display switching back and forth between multi-color and black and white.

"The first sequence was arranged to have a multi-colour display for the first 15 seconds, followed by 15 seconds of black and white, switching a total of 17 times in the four and a half minute scan. We then replayed the same clip in a second scan, instead starting in black and white."

Erin says that this allowed the researchers to observe the brain's complex response to movement, edges, sizes, , colors and angles in the movie, using the MRI scanner. With the same clip played in different color sequences, they were able to 'subtract' the responses to the two different types of scan and so isolate those regions that responded particularly to color.

The location of the centralised colour processing region advances understanding to how the visual cortex is organised in our brain and opens the way for researchers to work on understanding cortical colour blindness.

Their discovery challenges the scientific theory that the V4 region is split across different parts of the human brain, as it is in monkeys.

Erin says that cortical color blindness differs from hereditary, or retinal, color blindness, the most common type of color blindness. Known as 'cerebral achromatopsia', it occurs when patients are unable to see colors following a or a stroke. The loss of color vision ranges from partial to complete color blindness, where the patient lives in a world of grey.

"People who are born color-blind do not have the normal three visual pigments in their cones - the vision cells that that provide us color vision - and that limits the information about color input to their brains," Erin explains.

"Patients with cortical can have a complete set of visual pigments in their cones, but the damage to their in the vicinity of V4 prevents their brains processing color. The colors are seen but not recognized."

Related Stories

Recommended for you

Forces from fluid in the developing lung play an essential role in organ development

January 23, 2018
It is a marvel of nature: during gestation, multiple tissue types cooperate in building the elegantly functional structures of organs, from the brain's folds to the heart's multiple chambers. A recent study by Princeton researchers ...

Anemia discovery offers new targets to treat fatigue in millions

January 22, 2018
A new discovery from the University of Virginia School of Medicine has revealed an unknown clockwork mechanism within the body that controls the creation of oxygen-carrying red blood cells. The finding sheds light on iron-restricted ...

More surprises about blood development—and a possible lead for making lymphocytes

January 22, 2018
Hematopoietic stem cells (HSCs) have long been regarded as the granddaddy of all blood cells. After we are born, these multipotent cells give rise to all our cell lineages: lymphoid, myeloid and erythroid cells. Hematologists ...

How metal scaffolds enhance the bone healing process

January 22, 2018
A new study shows how mechanically optimized constructs known as titanium-mesh scaffolds can optimize bone regeneration. The induction of bone regeneration is of importance when treating large bone defects. As demonstrated ...

Researchers illustrate how muscle growth inhibitor is activated, could aid in treating ALS

January 19, 2018
Researchers at the University of Cincinnati (UC) College of Medicine are part of an international team that has identified how the inactive or latent form of GDF8, a signaling protein also known as myostatin responsible for ...

Bioengineered soft microfibers improve T-cell production

January 18, 2018
T cells play a key role in the body's immune response against pathogens. As a new class of therapeutic approaches, T cells are being harnessed to fight cancer, promising more precise, longer-lasting mitigation than traditional, ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.