Link between seeing and processing visual information uncovered

November 13th, 2008 - 1:29 pm ICT by IANS  

Sydney, Nov 13 (IANS) Researchers have isolated an important new link between how we see and the way our mind processes that visual stimulation. Queensland (University) Brain Institute (QBI) scientists Jason Mattingley, Ross Cunnington and their colleagues have demonstrated the human brain does indeed have a mechanism to capture observed and executed actions.

“Data gathered from these experiments show that a particular part of the brain encodes specific actions, regardless of whether those actions are executed or passively observed,” Mattingley said.

“Until now, evidence for such a mechanism has been lacking,” Mattingley said. “The mirror-neuron system has received much interest in recent years because it is thought to have an important role in a range of human responses such as empathy and observational learning,” he said.

(A mirror-neuron is a neuron which fires both when an animal acts and when the animal observes the same action performed by another animal. Thus, the neuron “mirrors” the behaviour of another animal, as though the observer were itself acting).

Dysfunction of the mirror system has been linked with such clinical disorders as apraxia, autism and schizophrenia.

While monitoring their subjects using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), researchers asked a group of volunteers to make a series of simple hand gestures, according to a QBI release.

Participants first performed a set of two-to-five pantomimed hand actions, and subsequently observed an equivalent number of actions that were either the same or different from those in the preceding set.

The results were published in Current Biology.

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