Your Brain Has A 'Sixth Sense' That Thinks Ahead And Predicts The Future

You don't even know you're doing it.

Scientists have discovered that the visual cortex of the brain has something of a hidden feature.

In addition to determining what you perceive from your eyes, this part of the brain has another role: Predicting the future.

How much of catching a ball is down to prediction?
How much of catching a ball is down to prediction?
Donald Miralle via Getty Images

Neuroscientists from Radboud University discovered this after they carried out a number of visual tests inside a fMRI scanner.

The participants were made to watch a white dot move across a screen, they would watch this repeated several times. While this was happening they would scan the visual cortex and note down what happened.

Then the participants would be shown the same white dot, but would not move it across the screen.

Despite it not moving, they noticed that the visual cortex was still showing the same pattern of activity as though the dot were moving. Put simply, the brain had learnt from its previous experience and was predicting what would happen next.

Matthias Ekman

What makes it interesting is that it’s not something we’re even consciously aware we’re doing. To prove this they again showed the moving dots but this time asked the participants to focus on a letter slowly moving into focus over the top of it.

While they did focus on the letter, the brain still predicted the moving dots, suggesting it’s an automated response.

“Our visual cortex might constantly predict events happening all around us on a daily basis: the rotating arms of a windmill, or how to catch the ball that is moving towards us.” explains lead scientist Matthias Ekman.

The scientists will now be looking to discover what other areas of the brain are involved in this ‘sixth sense’. Ekman said: “We expect that the hippocampus – a brain area linked to memory - plays an important role in this process.”

Coolest Science Photos Of The Decade

Martin Le-May
A baby weasel took the ride of a lifetime on the back of a green woodpecker in Hornchurch Country Park in East London. Photographer Martin Le-May just happened to be lucky enough to capture the moment on March 2, 2015.
NASA, ESA, H. Teplitz and M. Rafelski (IPAC/Caltech), A. Koekemoer (STScI), R. Windhorst (Arizona State University), and Z. Levay (STScI)
Astronomers using NASA's Hubble Space Telescope assembled a comprehensive picture of the evolving universe -- among the most colorful deep space images ever captured by the 25-year-old telescope. The image was released on June 3, 2014.
NASA astronaut Mike Hopkins snapped a selfie while completing a spacewalk outside of the Earth-orbiting International Space Station on Dec. 24, 2013.
Hadoram Shirihai/Tubenoses project
A rare Mascarene petrel with an egg-shaped bulge in its middle. Photographed in 2012 by researchers near Reunion, an island off the coast of Madagascar, it was said to be the first to show a bird flying with a visible "baby bump."
Wikimedia Commons:
In 2011, a female Celebes crested macaque (Macaca nigra) in North Sulawesi, Indonesia, decided to pick up British wildlife photographer David Slater's camera and take a selfie.
NIAID (National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases)
A stunning scanning electron micrograph of a human T lymphocyte (also called a T cell) from the immune system of a healthy donor, taken on May 24, 2010.
Sung Hoon Kang, Joanna Aizenberg and Boaz Pokroy; Harvard University
An electron microscope photograph shows self-assembling hair-like polymers around a polystyrene sphere, about two micrometers in diameter. It won first place in the National Science Foundation's 2009 International Science & Engineering Visualization Challenge.
Hurricane Ike covers more than half of Cuba. It was taken by the Expedition 17 crew aboard the International Space Station from a vantage point of 220 miles above Earth, on September 9, 2008.
Gloria Kwon/NIKON Small World
A close-up look at a double transgenic mouse embryo, just 18.5 days old. The photo won first place in Nikon's 2007 Small World Photomicrography Competition.
Thierry Legault
A photo of the International Space Station (ISS) and Space Shuttle Atlantis flying between Earth and the sun. The photo was taken from Normandie, France on Sept. 17, 2006.
Charles Krebs/NIKON Small World
A portrait of a Muscoid fly (house fly) that won first place in Nikon's 2005 Small World Photomicrography Competition.

What's Hot