As we learn more about the human brain, researchers have discovered that as you look at an object, your brain not only processes what the object looks like, but remembers what it feels like to touch it as well.
According to University of Southern California researchers, this connection is so strong that a computer examining data coming only from the part of your brain that processes touch can predict which object you are actually looking at.
In a research effort that builds upon previous work demonstrating a link between visual and auditory areas of the brain, magnetic resonance brain scans and specially programmed computers were used to better explain how memory and the senses interact.
In the study, researchers used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to scan the part of the participants’ brains that is responsible for processing touch sensations as they watched five video clips of hands touching various objects.
When a specially programmed computer was given the data generated by the scan, the computer was able to accurately predict, just based on how the “tactile” part of the cerebral cortex had reacted, which of the five video clips the participant had been seeing.
“When asked to imagine the difference between touching a cold, slick piece of metal and the warm fur of a kitten, most people admit that they can literally ‘feel’ the two sensations in their ‘mind’s touch,'” said Kaspar Meyer, the lead author of the study.
“The same happened to our subjects when we showed them video clips of hands touching varied objects,” he said. “Our results show that ‘feeling with the mind’s touch’ activates the same parts of the brain that would respond to actual touch.”
Study authors believe this suggests that human brains capture and store physical sensations, and then replay them when prompted by viewing the corresponding visual image.
“When you hold a thought in your mind about a particular object, that is not just mental fluff. It is rather a detailed memory file that is being revived in your brain,” Antonio Damasio said.
The findings appear in the September issue of the journal Cerebral Cortex.
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