The human brain is able to 'predict' what your eyes will see before you look, and for the first time a team of neuroscientists from the University of Glasgow have shown exactly that works.
In a study, the results of which were published in the Nature journal Scientific Reports, experts used a process called Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (FMRI) to better understand how your brain anticipates information it will see – before your eyes even move.
The fresh research, led by professor Lars Muckli of the University of Glasgow, used FMRI alongside a visual illusion to analyse the "constant two-way dialogue", the experts said in a relase Monday (4 December).
Muckli said: "This study [...] demonstrates how FMRI can contribute to this area of neuroscience.
"Finding a mechanism for brain function will contribute to brain-inspired computing and artificial intelligence, as well as aid our investigation into mental disorders."
We move our eyes approximately 4 times per second, which means our brains have to process new visual information every 250 milliseconds – but nevertheless our world appears stable.
If you were to move a video camera so frequently, the image would appear jumpy. However scientists say the reason we perceive the world as stable is because our brains are able to think ahead.
The illusion involved two stationary flashing squares that look to the observer as one square moving between two locations. During the flashes, the experts instructed participants to move their eyes.
The researchers imaged the visual cortex – the largest part of the human brain – and found that the prediction of motion updated to a new spatial position alongside the eye movement.
A second expert on the project – Dr Gracie Edwards – explained in detail how the process worked.
"Visual information is received from the eyes and processed by the visual system in the brain," Edwards said. "We call visual information 'feedforward' input. At the same time, the brain also sends information to the visual system, this information is called 'feedback'.
"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."
The study, "Predictive feedback to V1 dynamically updates with sensory input", was funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council and a Human Brain Project grant.