26 January 2014 | Articles, Articles 2014, Communications | By Christophe Lachnitt
The Processing Speed Of Your Brain Will Leave You Speechless
It is key to the management of perceptions.
Researchers of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have demonstrated for the first time that the brain can process images that the eye sees for only 13 milliseconds. Their study was published in the journal Attention Perception and Psychophysics and highlighted by Ray Kurzweil on his blog.
To arrive at this startling conclusion, the MIT neuroscientists asked volunteers to look for a particular picture in series of six or twelve images. These were shown to them with increasing speed in order to test the limit of their ability to perceive.
Mary Potter, an MIT professor of brain and cognitive sciences and senior author of the study, has an exciting take on this research: “The fact that you can do that at these high speeds indicates to us that what vision does is find concepts. That’s what the brain is doing all day long — trying to understand what we’re looking at. The job of the eyes is not only to get the information into the brain, but to allow the brain to think about it rapidly enough to know what you should look at next.”
The fact that our brain seeks to understand the overall meaning of the stimuli to which it is exposed and doesn’t pay too much attention to the details is due to the limit of its information processing capacity. That’s why our brain is constantly sorting out what to focus on.
To explain this to my students, I take the example of the sense of touch: It is turned off re: the clothes we wear and turned on when we pet a dog. Our memory works in the same way: It focuses on the meaning of events that we live and not on the details, except for those events with such an emotional charge that they fix all details in our memory. That’s why we remember what we were doing on September 11, 2001 but we can’t recall what we had for lunch eleven days ago.
Understanding the brain’s modus operandi is fundamental for perception because it shows that the only thing that matters is the meaning that one communicates to their target audiences. Everything else is minor and therefore erased by the brain.