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Why our eyes are moving all the time and yet the image we’re seeing isn’t shaking?

Posted December 8, 2017

Seeing around a corner may sound like some sort of fictional superpower. Seeing something that your eyes cannot look into directly would be extremely useful. However, you may not know it, but you have this superpower, according to a new research from the University of Glasgow have shown how humans can predict what they will see next.

Human eyes move 4 times per second – this would produce a very shaky image, but our brain smoothes it out using predictions. Image credit: Jacek Halicki via Wikimedia(CC BY-SA 4.0)

Speaking in IT terms, our eyes are input devices. However, scientists don’t like such description and they say that it is actually a two way street – our eyes are having dialogues with our brain. Now scientist used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to show how we can predict what we’re about to see. Scientists used an illusion of two stationary flashing squares. Because of how these squares flash they look like one square rapidly changing locations – our brain predicts movement. Participants were asked to move their eyes during the flashing. Scientists noticed that this caused activity spikes in a new spatial position in cortex.

Humans move eyes 4 times per second, which creates a lot of information for brains to process. Imaging holding a camera in your hands while filming something. How would the video look like if you kept moving the camera 4 times per second? It would be extremely shaky. Meanwhile the world doesn’t look so shaky to us, since our brain predicts movement of the eyes. We couldn’t even walk without getting sea sickness, because every step we take shakes our entire body a little bit. In other words, we kind of see around the corners, as our brain images something we would see after we move our eyes.

fMRI played a key role in this research. Scientists are grateful for this technology as it is very accurate and quick. In this case fMRI allowed observing the two way dialogue that is happening in our visual system. While our eyes are certainly gathering information and sending it to the brain, brain is also sending feedback. Scientist Dr Gracie Edwards, one of the authors of the study, explained: “Feedback information influences our perception of the feedforward input using expectations based on our memories of similar perceptual events. Feedforward and feedback information interact with one another to produce the visual scenes we perceive every day”.

It is so interesting that our brain is doing this all the time without us even realizing it. Human brain really is something special and we are yet to discover its full potential and hidden functions.


Source: University of Glasgow

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