Neuroscientists show how neurons respond to sequences of familiar objects

August 24, 2014, Carnegie Mellon University
A new study from Carnegie Mellon researchers shows how neurons react to a stream of images. Test subjects were trained to look at images of items (below) until those images became familiar. Credit: Center for Neural Basis of Cognition

The world grows increasingly more chaotic year after year, and our brains are constantly bombarded with images. A new study from Center for the Neural Basis of Cognition (CNBC), a joint project between Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh, reveals how neurons in the part of the brain responsible for recognizing objects respond to being shown a barrage of images. The study is published online by Nature Neuroscience.

The CNBC researchers showed animal subjects a rapid succession of images, some that were new, and some that the subjects had seen more than 100 times. The researchers measured the electrical response of in the inferotemporal cortex, an essential part of the visual system and the part of the responsible for object recognition.

In previous studies, researchers found that when subjects were shown a single, familiar image, their neurons responded less strongly than when they were shown an unfamiliar image. However, in the current study, the CNBC researchers found that when subjects were exposed to familiar and unfamiliar images in a rapid succession, their neurons—especially the —fired much more strongly and selectively to images the subject had seen many times before.

"It was such a dramatic effect, it leapt out at us," said Carl Olson, a professor at Carnegie Mellon. "You wouldn't expect there to be such deep changes in the brain from simply making things familiar. We think this may be a mechanism the brain uses to track a rapidly changing visual environment."

The researchers then ran a similar experiment in which they used themselves as subjects, recording their brain activity using EEG. They found that the humans' brains responded similarly to the animal subjects' brains when presented with familiar or unfamiliar images in rapid succession. In future studies, they hope to link these changes in the brain to improvements in perception and cognition.

Explore further: Neuroscientists find the brain can identify images seen for as little as 13 milliseconds

More information: Image familiarization sharpens response dynamics of neurons in inferotemporal cortex, Nature Neuroscience, DOI: 10.1038/nn.3794

Related Stories

Neuroscientists find the brain can identify images seen for as little as 13 milliseconds

January 16, 2014
Imagine seeing a dozen pictures flash by in a fraction of a second. You might think it would be impossible to identify any images you see for such a short time. However, a team of neuroscientists from MIT has found that the ...

Researchers discover how inhibitory neurons behave during critical periods of learning

August 25, 2013
We've all heard the saying "you can't teach an old dog new tricks." Now neuroscientists are beginning to explain the science behind the adage.

Neuronal activity in the visual cortex controlled by both where the eyes are looking and what they see

September 20, 2013
Even though our eyes are constantly moving, the brain perceives the external world as stationary—a feat achieved by integrating images acquired by the retina with information about the direction of the gaze. An international ...

Our brains judge a face's trustworthiness—even when we can't see it

August 5, 2014
Our brains are able to judge the trustworthiness of a face even when we cannot consciously see it, a team of scientists has found. Their findings, which appear in the Journal of Neuroscience, shed new light on how we form ...

Recommended for you

Brain zaps may help curb tics of Tourette syndrome

January 16, 2018
Electric zaps can help rewire the brains of Tourette syndrome patients, effectively reducing their uncontrollable vocal and motor tics, a new study shows.

A 'touching sight': How babies' brains process touch builds foundations for learning

January 16, 2018
Touch is the first of the five senses to develop, yet scientists know far less about the baby's brain response to touch than to, say, the sight of mom's face, or the sound of her voice.

Researchers identify protein involved in cocaine addiction

January 16, 2018
Mount Sinai researchers have identified a protein produced by the immune system—granulocyte-colony stimulating factor (G-CSF)—that could be responsible for the development of cocaine addiction.

Neuroscientists suggest a model for how we gain volitional control of what we hold in our minds

January 16, 2018
Working memory is a sort of "mental sketchpad" that allows you to accomplish everyday tasks such as calling in your hungry family's takeout order and finding the bathroom you were just told "will be the third door on the ...

Brain imaging predicts language learning in deaf children

January 15, 2018
In a new international collaborative study between The Chinese University of Hong Kong and Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago, researchers created a machine learning algorithm that uses brain scans to predict ...

Preterm babies may suffer setbacks in auditory brain development, speech

January 15, 2018
Preterm babies born early in the third trimester of pregnancy are likely to experience delays in the development of the auditory cortex, a brain region essential to hearing and understanding sound, a new study reveals. Such ...

0 comments

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.