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 Study shows that colour plays musical chairs in the brain

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Date posted: 01/10/2009

Colour is normally thought of as a fundamental attribute of an object: a red Corvette, a blue lake, a pink flamingo. Yet despite this popular notion, new research suggests that our perception of colour is malleable, and relies heavily on biological processes of the eye and brain.

The brain's neural mechanisms keep straight which colour belongs to what object, so one doesn't mistakenly see a blue flamingo in a pink lake. But what happens when a colour loses the object to which it is linked? Research at the University of Chicago has demonstrated, for the first time, that instead of disappearing along with the lost object, the colour latches onto a region of some other object in view - a finding that reveals a new basic property of sight.

The research shows that the brain processes the shape of an object and its colour in two separate pathways and, though the object's shape and colour normally are linked, the neural representation of the colour can survive alone. When that happens, the brain establishes a new link that binds the colour to another visible shape.

"Colour is in the brain. It is constructed, just as the meanings of words are constructed. Without the neural processes of the brain, we wouldn't be able to understand colours of objects any more than we could understand words of a language we hear but don't know," said Steven Shevell, a University of Chicago psychologist who specializes on colour and vision.

Shevell's findings are reported in a paper, "Color-Binding Errors During Rivalrous Suppression of Form," in the current issue of Psychological Science.

See the full Story via external site: www.physorg.com



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