Fans of classic films may know the Orson Welles’ classic “A Touch of Evil’’ for its innovative use of technology and techniques. For some neuroscience researchers, the movie has helped add to their understanding of how the brain processes visual cues.
Researchers from York University showed lab mice a three-minute clip of the suspenseful start to the 1958 film, which is notable for its shifting camera angles, people and vehicles moving in and out of the frame and other visual stimuli. They analyzed how the visual cortexes of the mice processed what they were seeing — or, rather, how they saw it.
Although neuroscience has become adept at translating its research to practical applications like object recognition systems, progress in functions like computer vision have been delayed by a lack of understanding of how the brain sees. This study addressed a model of how sight worked, whose principles focused around the importance of “edges” as a reference point for visual neurons.
Researchers noticed that more than three-quarters of the neurons in the mice’s visual cortex responded to at least one stimulus, something in the scene. In some cases, however, the percentage dropped by half. The other neurons appeared to be “off,” drastically upending previous models of visual processing that dictate that every visual neuron should react to stimulus.
This indicates that some visual neurons may be idle, while also pointing to at least 10 different kinds of neurons that are capable of responding to precise aspects of the visual world.
Future research could improve the science behind self-driving cars and brain prostheses for the visually impaired. People, that is.