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MIT Neuroscientists: Human Brain Processes Images At Rapid Speed

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(Credit: ThinkStock)

(Credit: ThinkStock)

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CAMBRIDGE (CBS) — The human brain is capable of processing images viewed through the eyes for as little as 13 milliseconds, according to research conducted by Massachusetts Institute of Technology neuroscientists.

That processing speed figure is significantly faster than the 100 milliseconds reported in earlier research, the MIT News Office reported.

The new MIT study appears in the journal Attention, Perception, and Psychophysics. In the research, investigators asked subjects to look for a particular type of image, such as “smiling couple,” as they viewed a series of as many as 12 images, each presented for between 13 and 80 milliseconds.

“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,” Mary Potter, an MIT professor of brain and cognitive sciences and senior author of the study, told MIT News.

Rapid-fire processing of images could serve to help direct the eyes to their next target, Potter said. “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. So in general, we’re calibrating our eyes so they move around just as often as possible consistent with understanding what we’re seeing,” she said.

The other authors of the new study are former MIT postdoctoral scholar Brad Wyble, now at Pennsylvania State University, postdoc Carl Hagmann, and research assistant Emily McCourt.

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