Visual Limitations of the Brain

The brain is an amazing machine. It does so much on its own without us even having to tell it to, that it’s scary. You don’t think about breathing or doing complex motions. You want to pick something up off the table and your brain automatically tells dozens of muscles to work in concert to make it happen.

One of the most complex of these “invisible cortex calculations” is sight. I’ll be you didn’t even realize that your cortical nerve is blocking a pretty substantial portion of your vision. But your brain automatically makes its best guess as to what should be there to fill in the gap.

And according to new research from Northwestern University, you can add putting together multiple groups to the list. Sure, it seems like when you see a grid of several types of common items that you recognize the groupings instantly. You can differentiate the Cheerios from the Corn Flakes from the Fruit Loops instantly in that bowl of cereal cocktail you enjoy every night. (Or is that just me?) But in reality, your brain can only form one group at a time.

Try this. Watch this video and see if you can pick out the one pair of dots that are stacked on top of each other rather than next to each other and moving together.

Did you see them? If not, try this one out that connects all the pairs by a line.

Here’s another example. Can you spot a pair of dots that are moving together in the exact same pattern?

Again, if not, try again with the pair picked out by color.

If you had trouble, you’re not alone. The more “noise” that is created by other moving objects – especially other groups of objects – the more difficult it is to pick out the ones you’re looking for. Again, the researchers believe that this because the brain can only pick out one at a time before merging it all together into a single view.

As for me, on that first one, I recognized that each pair of dots were moving in sync one at a time. It definitely didn’t happen all at once.



About bigkingken

A science writer dedicated to proving that the Big Ten - or the Committee on Institutional Cooperation, if you will - is more than athletics.
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