December 11, 2015
1 min read

Keynote lecture explores modular organization of visual brain

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VIENNA — The keynote lecture of the Advanced Retinal Therapy meeting focused this year on the brain basis of vision and modular organization of the visual brain.

“Humans are highly visual animals. At least one-third of our cortex is devoted to the problem of figuring out what we are looking at,” Nancy Kanwisher, PhD, a professor at MIT, said.

Nancy Kanwisher

Functional MRI research has revealed that specific regions of the human brain respond selectively to faces, places and bodies.

“They are functionally specific regions. Each of them is found in approximately the same location in every normal subject,” Kanwisher said.

Interestingly, the presence and relative position of these areas are homologous to macaques, suggesting a similar functional architecture of vision and perhaps common ancestry.

“The same does not apply to audition, where organization in humans appears to differ sharply, because the human auditory cortex is organized around uniquely human functions like speech perception and music,” Kanwisher said.

A question that arises is why some visual categories develop their own patch in the brain and not others. No specialized area was found for other supposedly significant stimuli, such as food, dangerous animals or weapons.

“Computational modeling might be able to illuminate this question by testing whether cortical specialization develops in relation to stimuli that matter most in our daily life or for visual stimuli that pose unique computational challenges,” Kanwisher said. by Michela Cimberle

Disclosure: Kanwisher reports no relevant financial disclosures.