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.
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.
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.”
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