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"Brain Expectations" -- The Discovery Files

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Johns Hopkins University cognitive psychologists are the first to link human's long-term visual memory with how things move. The key, they found, lies in whether we can visually track an object.

Credit: NSF/Karson Productions

Audio Transcript:

Look! Up in the sky!

I'm Bob Karson with the Discovery Files from the National Science Foundation.

(Sound effect: whooshy flying sound) (Sound effect: woman's voice) "It's a bird!" (Sound effect: man's voice) "It's a plane!" (Sound effect: woman 2 voice) "It's an image in my brain being formed from a compilation of ideas and prior memories being processed according to specific inherent expectations! Whoa. It's superman!" (Sound effect: cheesy applause)

That bit of Mind Theater was performed by our staff to illustrate a key brain discovery out of Johns Hopkins University -- a link between how things move, and long-term visual memory. According to the researchers, to determine if that was indeed superman, first, one must be able to track the object. The brain then uses prior memories of the man of steel and combines them with knowledge of the physical world. Even though the lighting, angle and distance change how he looks, the brain correctly identifies our hero.

In the study, people were shown video clips of objects in motion -- some moving as a single object would, some moving in unexpected ways. Memory tests showed subjects had memories up to 20 percent better when the objects moved in an expected manner. If we see one thing moving from place to place, our brains have a chance to see it in varying conditions and a chance to form a stronger memory of it.

This discovery could help machines learn to recognize objects when viewed under differing circumstances.

Like teaching my robo vacuum to avoid the... (Sound effect: cat reowghhh!!)

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