New York: Visual cortex, the part of the brain responsible for seeing, can take decisions just like the brain's traditional "higher level" areas, finds a study.
"We are only at the beginning of trying to figure out how the brain works, and the visual system is a very good place to start," said lead investigator of the study Jan Brascamp, assistant professor of psychology at Michigan State University in the US.
"In that light, the current findings, which show that the visual system has a capacity we previously did not expect, are an important step in the right direction," Brascamp noted.
For the research, study participants were placed in an MRI scanner and shown two adjacent patterns of dots on a projection screen while their brain activity was monitored.
Previous research using MRI readings indicated the decision to switch perceptions is controlled by the association cortex, which is known for higher-level functions such as making choices, while the visual cortex handles the simpler task of processing visual information.
In this study, the researchers found that the visual cortex was making the choice between perceptions on its own.
"That is one sense in which our study is counterintuitive and surprising," Brascamp said.
"The part of the brain that is responsible for seeing, for the apparently 'simple' act of generating the picture in our mind's eye, turns out to have the ability to do something akin to choosing, as it actively switches between different interpretations of the visual input without any help from traditional 'higher level' areas of the brain," Brascamp said.
The findings were published in the journal Nature Neuroscience.