Computational Model Reveals Brain Activity

Researchers have designed a model to reflect neurological evidence that in the primate brain - object identification that is deciding what an object is, object location and deciding where it is - are handled separately.

“Although what and where are processed in two separate parts of the brain, they are integrated during perception to analyze the image,” says Sharat Chikkerur, lead author on a paper. “The model that we have tries to explain how this information is integrated.”

The mechanism of integration, the researchers argue, is attention. According to their model, when the brain is confronted by a scene containing a number of different objects, it can’t keep track of all of them at once. So instead it creates a rough map of the scene that simply identifies some regions as being more visually interesting than others. If it’s then called upon to determine whether the scene contains an object of a particular type, it begins by searching, turning its attention toward the regions of greatest interest.

The research team implemented the model in software, then tested its predictions against data from experiments with human subjects. The subjects were asked first to simply regard a street scene depicted on a computer screen, then to count the cars in the scene, and then to count the pedestrians, while an eye-tracking system recorded their eye movements. The software predicted with great accuracy which regions of the image the subjects would attend to during each task.

The software’s analysis of an image begins with the identification of interesting features like rudimentary shapes common to a wide variety of images. It then creates a map that depicts which features are found in which parts of the image. But thereafter, shape information and location information are processed separately, as they are in the brain.

It does, however, interpret the “interestingness” of the features probabilistically. If a feature occurs more than once, its interestingness is spread out across all the locations at which it occurs. If another feature occurs at only one location, its interestingness is concentrated at that one location.; Source: MIT's McGovern Institute for Brain Research