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Study sheds light on first impressions

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A study of how people can quickly spot animals by sight is helping uncover the workings of the human brain

Scientists examined why volunteers who were shown hundreds of pictures - some with animals and some without - were able to detect animals in as little as one-tenth of a second.

They found that one of the first parts of the brain to process visual information - the primary visual cortex - can control this fast response.

More complex parts of the brain are not required at this stage, contrary to what was previously thought.

Immediate response

The findings suggest that when people look at a scene for the first time, the brain’s immediate responses can categorize it based on small areas of shape and texture.

Other parts of the brain then use more complex processing, which takes longer, to work out the objects being seen.

Researchers at the University of Edinburgh and the Aix Marseille Université used data from previous studies in which volunteers looked at hundreds of images.

They ran computer programs to mimic and analyze the processing of the primary visual cortex as the images were viewed.

Image search tools

They showed that the program could quickly distinguish images with animals, which have more curved edges and textures, from images of outdoor scenes, which have longer, straighter edges on average.

The discovery could help inform the development of image-based internet search engines, by enabling computer programs to classify images according to their geometry.

It was previously thought that complex parts of the brain were required for analyzing images, with categories - such as animals - only being detectable at a late stage in the process.

Note: Material may have been edited for length and content. For further information, please contact the cited source.

The University of Edinburgh   press release


Laurent U. Perrinet, James A. Bednar. Edge co-occurrences can account for rapid categorization of natural versus animal images.   Scientific Reports, Published June 22 2015. doi: 10.1038/srep11400