Seeing more comes from the brain, not from the eyes

Educated observers do not see any more details, they process visual stimuli more effectively

The region in the prefrontal cortex, which plays a role in the sharpening of perception ("perception learning"). © National Amber Network
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Why can trained observers still perceive the smallest details where others see nothing special? Researchers have now found that such experts can no longer or better see, but that their brain simply evaluates the visual information better and more thoroughly. In the journal "Neuron" they report that trained "seers" show no increased activity in the visual center of the brain, but in an area responsible for information processing in the prefrontal cortex.


Wine connoisseurs recognize at the first sip the vintage, artists see tiny color variations and the blind distinguish the finest surface structures. Why are they so superior to laymen in their field? Do the experts simply see more details or is their brain calibrated to extract more from the available visual information? This has now been studied by scientists from the Charité - Universitätsmedizin Berlin, the Bernstein Center Berlin, the Cluster of Excellence NeuroCure and the Otto-von-Guericke University Magdeburg. Using the example of visual stimuli, they examined how brain activity changes in the course of the learning process.

Visual center or cerebral cortex?

The researchers studied the learning processes using the example of simple geometric sketches. In the experiment, the twenty subjects briefly saw a small stripe pattern on a screen. You should decide in which direction the stripes showed. Over time, they could see this better and better. In parallel, the researchers measured changes in nerve cell activity in the brain using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). Their idea was: If the learning effect is based primarily on a more detailed representation of the stimuli, the visual center should primarily be active. If, on the other hand, the interpretation of the stimuli in the brain is the reason for the progress of the learners, then this should be shown in the areas that play a role in decisions.

Information is evaluated more effectively and accurately

"The fMRI measurements clearly showed that the activity in the visual center stayed the same during the entire learning process, " explains John-Dylan Haynes, head of the Berlin Center for Advanced Neuroimaging at the Charité. However, a region in the prefrontal cortex that plays an important role in the interpretation of stimuli has become increasingly active. From this, the researchers concluded that learning takes place at the level of decision-making. display

"If our perception of learning is sharpening, it's not so much because more information reaches the brain, " concludes Haynes. Instead, we learn to start more and more with the given information. We gradually see in pictures details that we are not aware of at the beginning. Whether similar effects also apply, for example, to wine connoisseurs or top chefs, could now be examined in more detail on the basis of our experiments. (Neuron, 2011; doi: 10.1016 / j.neuron. 2011.02.054)

(National Bernstein Network Computational Neuroscience, 16.05.2011 - NPO)