Your Brain ‘Sees’ Things Even When You Don’t.

The brain processes visual input to the level of understanding its meaning even if we never consciously perceive that input, according to new research published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

The research, led by Jay Sanguinetti of the University of Arizona, challenges currently accepted models about how the brain processes visual information.

Sanguinetti, a doctoral candidate in the UA’s department of psychology in the College of Science, showed study participants a series of black silhouettes, some of which contained recognizable, real-world objects hidden in the white spaces on the outsides.

Working with John Allen, Distinguished Professor of psychology, cognitive science and neuroscience at the University of Arizona, Sanguinetti monitored subjects’ brainwaves with an electroencephalogram, or EEG, while they viewed the objects.

“There’s a brain signature for meaningful processing,” Sanguinetti said. Participants’ EEG data showed the signature, a peak in the oscillating brainwaves that occurs about 400 milliseconds after the image was shown, called N400.

“The participants in our experiments don’t see those shapes on the outside; nonetheless, the brain signature tells us that they have processed the meaning of those shapes,” said Mary Peterson, a professor in the UA department of psychology and Sanguinetti’s advisor. “But the brain rejects them as interpretations, and if it rejects the shapes from conscious perception, then you won’t have any awareness of them.”

Importantly, the N400 waveform did not appear on the EEG of subjects when they were seeing truly novel silhouettes, without images of any real-world objects.

These findings lead to the question of why the brain would process the meaning of a shape when a person is ultimately not going to perceive it, Sanguinetti noted.

“Many, many theorists assume that because it takes a lot of energy for brain processing, that the brain is only going to spend time processing what you’re ultimately going to perceive,” added Peterson. “But in fact the brain is deciding what you’re going to perceive, and it’s processing all of the information and then it’s determining what’s the best interpretation.”

“This is a window into what the brain is doing all the time,” Peterson said. “It’s always sifting through a variety of possibilities and finding the best interpretation for what’s out there. And the best interpretation may vary with the situation.”

Our brains may have evolved to sift through the barrage of visual input in our eyes and identify those things that are most important for us to consciously perceive, such as a threat or resources such as food, Peterson suggested.

“There are a lot of complex processes that happen in the brain to help us interpret all this complexity that hits our eyeballs,” Sanguinetti said. “The brain is able to process and interpret this information very quickly.”

Sanguinetti’s study indicates that ultimately, when we walk down a street, our eyes perceive and our brains recognize meaningful objects, even though we may never be consciously aware of them.

In the future, Peterson and Sanguinetti plan to look for the specific regions in the brain where the processing of meaning occurs. “We’re trying to look at exactly what brain regions are involved,” said Peterson. “The EEG tells us this processing is happening and it tells us when it’s happening, but it doesn’t tell us where it’s occurring in the brain.”

Testing Sideline Tele-Concussion Robot at Football Games.


There will be a new face at Northern Arizona University (NAU) football games this fall – only the face of this new “team member” is a robot on wheels. Mayo Clinic researchers are working with NAU to test the feasibility of using a telemedicine robot to assess athletes with suspectedconcussions during football games.


With sophisticated robotic technology, use of a specialized remote-controlled camera system allows patients to be “seen” by the neurology specialist, miles away, in real time. The robot is equipped with a specialized camera system and remotely operated by a neurologist from the Mayo Clinic in Phoenix campus who has the ability to assess a player for symptoms and signs of a concussion, and to consult with sideline medical personnel.

The first time the robot will be used in a game is this Friday, Aug. 30, when NAU kicks off its season against the University of Arizona in Tucson at 7 p.m. MDT.

 Arizona, concussion robot, concussions, Football, neurology, Northern Arizona University


World’s leggiest millipede put under microscope.

The anatomical secrets of the world’s leggiest creature, a millipede with 750 legs, have been revealed by scientists.

The species, called Illacme plenipes, was first seen 80 years ago but was recently rediscovered in California.

Now researchers have found that as well as bearing an extreme number of legs, the creature may have more in common with millipedes that lived millions of years ago than today’s species.

The study is published in the journal ZooKeys.

“It’s a kind of mythical creature in the millipede world,” said Dr Paul Marek, an entomologist from the University of Arizona and the lead author of the paper.

Record breaker

In 2005, Dr Marek and his brother discovered some of the leggy arthropods lurking under boulders in the mountains of California. Until then, I.plenipes had not been glimpsed since 1926.

A paper published in the journal Nature outlined the rediscovery and described the creature’s basic biology, but the new research looked at the creature’s anatomy in much more detail.

Despite the name – most millipedes have far fewer than 1,000 feet. Most species belonging to the most common order Polydesmida have an average of just 62.

But Dr Marek confirmed that I.plenipes safely holds the record for the leggiest creature: females can have up to 750 legs, while males have up to 562.

“It seems like these legs evolved for their subterranean lifestyle,” he explained.

“They live deep underground: we found them about 10-15cm (4-6in) below the soil’s surface.

“They are typically found clinging onto sandstone boulders. Based on functional morphology of closely related species, it seems like all of these legs evolved to burrow under the ground and to cling onto these large boulders.”

Though they have many limbs, the creatures are small, measuring about about 3cm-long (1in).

Open wide

Close examination of the creature revealed that it had some ancient features.

 “Start Quote

Its anatomy retains a number of primitive characteristics”

Dr Paul MarekUniversity of Arizona

Most millipedes chew leaves and decaying vegetation with grinding mouth parts.

But the scientists found that this species had a more rudimentary anatomy. Its jaws are fused to its head, and Dr Marek believes that it pierces and then sucks up plant and fungal tissues to satisfy its appetite.

The creature’s body segments were also more similar to ancient millipedes than to most other species found today.

Dr Marek said that millions of years ago creatures like I.plenipes would have been widespread, but now it was one of the last of its kind.

He explained: “It is a relict species. Its most closely related lineages are in South Africa and there is nothing related to this species in the entire North America region. Its anatomy retains a number of primitive characteristics.”

The animal, which also has a number of other unusual features such as body hairs that secrete silk, is thought to be extremely rare and only found in a small area close to San Francisco.

Dr Marek said: “Based on our search of the area, it seem like it is known in three spots – and these spots are about 4.5km (3 miles) away from one and other.

“It does seem that this creature is restricted both in terms of geography and also evolutionarily.”

Dr Marek, a self-confessed millipede enthusiast, said that rediscovering the record breaking creature was a staggering experience, but that it would be “awesome” if someone unearthed an even leggier creature.

He said: “The name millipede would no longer be a misnomer – it would only need to add a few more segments to get an even 1,000 (legs), which would be fantastic.”