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Brains and Images

DIY Jumping Brain by Emilio Garcia - top view

Picture the following scenario: New gadget in the market that will help you put together your next blog entry and you need a picture to go with the exciting story you wanted to tell… What do you have to do? Well, just think of the object you want to use and presto, the image is conjured before your eyes. It sounds a bit  far-fetched, but it could well be that this sort of mind control might one day be possible. In a recent study reported in Nature, volunteers awaiting neurosurgery managed to enhance one of two images presented to them, using their brain.

This research seems to demonstrate that even when our brains receive various different stimuli, i.e. pictures, smells, textures etc., our conscious thoughts allow us to chose what to notice and what to ignore.

This reminded me of those “Jennifer Aniston neurons” that were described some time ago. And, no, this was not about the description of the neurons of the actress of “Friends” fame. It was about a study in which certain neurons in people’s brains reacted when they were shown a picture of Aniston. Nothing special about the actress, this could have worked with any other celebrity (z-lebrity?), and this is because we seem to assign individual cells to recognise faces we see regularly.

In this new study,  12 patients who suffered severe epilepsy, and who were awaiting neurosurgery at the UCLA Ronald Reagan Medical Center in Los Angeles, were shown a series of 110 familiar images – sadly, there is no mention of Mrs Aniston – and the scientists identified the individual neurons which responded to one of the images. Afterwards, the patients were shown a couple of images (picked among those for which they showed bigger response) and were asked to think about one of them and thus enhance it. What was the result? Well, the patients were able to render their target image visible, and entirely eliminate the distracting image.

Caribbean near Tulum

This experiment seems to indicate that we can use our conscious thoughts to change our perception of the visual images we receive. In other words, day dreaming about sunbathing by the sea might indeed help you fight SAD this winter or escape that awful never-ending meeting.