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[evol-psych] 'Paying attention' to what we see

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  • Ian Pitchford
    EXN.CA Paying attention to what we see October 27, 1999 Humans are visual creatures. Some experts have estimated that about half our brains are devoted to
    Message 1 of 1 , Nov 1, 1999
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      EXN.CA
      'Paying attention' to what we see October 27, 1999

      Humans are visual creatures. Some experts have estimated that about half our
      brains are devoted to processing visual information. At the same time the
      visual world is dauntingly complex. Even if we are only able to take in a
      fraction of what's around us at a glance, each such glance is followed
      immediately by another and another and another.
      Most of these visual scenes are unimportant, but how do we know that? We must
      be able to pay attention to some features of the scene, and ignore the rest.
      Exactly how the brain "pays attention" to things that it sees is a major issue
      in psychology.

      Paying attention involves such a complicated set of brain activities that a
      single experiment can only provide a tiny piece of the puzzle. But even tiny
      pieces are important and one such piece was just published in the journal
      NATURE.

      Kathleen O'Craven, Paul Downing and Nancy Kanwisher asked volunteers to pay
      attention to certain aspects of a curious visual display. It consisted of two
      different images - a house and a face - arranged to activate three different
      brain areas. The face by itself excites neurons in something called the
      fusiform face area (part of the cerebral cortex apparently specialized for face
      recognition); the house triggers a response in the "PPA" (the parahippocampal
      place area) and the motion of either excites motion-detecting neurons in a
      third, distinct brain area. These brain areas are distinct enough that magnetic
      resonance images of the brain can show when any or all of them are active. You
      might expect that if you are asked to pay attention to the face, then the
      fusiform face area in your brain should suddenly become more active. But that's
      not all that happens.

      Full text:
      http://exn.ca/html/templates/mastertop.cfm?ID=19991027-56
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