A recent study of more than 3,000 people has shown that a key part of what makes us human is our ability to process information in different ways depending on how we look at it.
The research found that when we focus on one particular aspect of our lives and analyse it, our brains react to it in ways that are highly specific to how we perceive our environment.
In other words, our brain’s internal representation of the world changes depending on whether we focus in on the main aspect or the subtler ones.
The results are described in the latest issue of the journal Nature.
In particular, the researchers found that, when presented with images that are presented as abstract and abstract, our neural processing of the image also changes.
“When people were presented with abstract images, the brain processes them as a set of instructions for a specific behaviour, and when presented as the more basic visual stimuli, the neural response is different,” said study leader Michael Schulz, an assistant professor at the University of Washington and an associate professor of psychology at the College of William and Mary.
“The brain’s representation of abstract and simple stimuli depends on what kind of information it has been given, and what kind the information is,” he said.
“So when people were given information about a specific action, they focused on it and interpreted it in a way that focused on a specific aspect of their life.”
The researchers were also interested in how the neural responses differed for images that were presented as images in the natural world.
The researchers used fMRI to measure the activity in different parts of the brain during the processing of images in different scenarios.
These included, for example, viewing a picture of a bird or a face.
“For example, if we were to see a bird with wings, it would be much more complex than if we saw a face with wings,” Schulz said.
The participants were asked to perform tasks that were designed to mimic everyday tasks that people do in real life.
For example, they were asked how many words a person should say in order to complete a task, as well as how many fingers should touch a computer screen in order for it to work.
The tasks included reading, writing, speaking and listening to audio, which was performed by a computer.
The people were asked about their expectations about how much time they would spend on the tasks, and then they were shown a series of pictures that were either abstract or simple.
The pictures were presented to the participants as abstract images.
When people were shown abstract images that they were already familiar with, they also showed a more specific neural response than when they were presented the simple images.
“In fact, when we saw the abstract images we were more interested in the details of the images that we had already seen before, like the way the bird looked, or how it moved, or even whether the bird was in the correct place,” Schulz said.
When the images were presented in simple and abstract versions, the participants showed an activity pattern similar to when they had a focus on the abstract picture.
“What we found is that the neural activity patterns in the brain for the simple and complex images are not really related to how the abstract image looked, but are really more related to the way that the abstract was presented to us,” he explained.
“And when we look deeper, we see that when the abstract pictures were abstract images with no particular context, the activity pattern for the brain was very similar to the activity patterns for the more simple pictures.”
Schulz and his colleagues are also working on using the brain imaging data to design more efficient brain scanners for people.
“If we can use the information from fMRI data to predict how someone is going to interpret their brain, we could have a lot of useful information about how to make things simpler for people,” he added.
“We can also use the same information to predict the performance of people with a wide range of different medical conditions.”
The study was supported by the National Institutes of Health.