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How the brain tracks fast-moving tennis balls

Last Updated: Thursday, May 9, 2013 - 18:47

Washington: How does tennis icon Venus Williams see the oncoming ball, let alone return her sister Serena`s 120 mph serves?

For the first time, vision scientists at the University of California, Berkeley, have pinpointed how the brain tracks fast-moving objects.

The discovery advances our understanding of how humans predict the trajectory of moving objects when it can take one-tenth of a second for the brain to process what the eye sees.

That 100-millisecond holdup means that in real time, a tennis ball moving at 120 mph would have already advanced 15 feet before the brain registers the ball`s location.

If our brains couldn`t make up for this visual processing delay, we`d be constantly hit by balls, cars and more.

Thankfully, the brain "pushes" forward moving objects so we perceive them as further along in their trajectory than the eye can see, researchers said.

"For the first time, we can see this sophisticated prediction mechanism at work in the human brain," Gerrit Maus, a postdoctoral fellow in psychology at UC Berkeley and lead author of the paper said.

A clearer understanding of how the brain processes objects in motion can eventually help in diagnosing and treating myriad disorders, including those that impair motion perception.

People who cannot perceive motion cannot predict locations of objects and therefore cannot perform tasks as simple as pouring a cup of coffee or crossing a road, researchers said.

This study is also likely to have a major impact on other studies of the brain.

Its findings come just as the Obama Administration initiates its push to create a Brain Activity Map Initiative, which will further pave the way for scientists to create a roadmap of human brain circuits, as was done for the Human Genome Project.

The study is set to be published in the journal, Neuron.


First Published: Thursday, May 9, 2013 - 18:47
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