Harvard University - Department of Molecular & Cellular Biology

THE RETINA SEEKS NOVELTY

by Markus Meister

July 7th, 2005


Authors Toshihiko Hosoya, Stephen A. Baccus and Markus Meister
Our eyes report the visual world to the brain, but not very faithfully. Instead, the retina creates a cartoonist's sketch of the visual scene, highlighting the edges of objects while suppressing the less interesting regions of flat illumination. Because edges are rare compared to flat regions, this amounts to a search for novel features. But what happens in a visual environment where edges are common? For example, a forest or field of grass presents many vertical edges but only rare horizontal features. Researchers in the laboratory of Markus Meister have now found that the retina adjusts to such a change and learns to suppress the commonplace vertical features while highlighting the rare horizontal features. The same principle of novelty-detection operates in many other visual environments. Apparently our thirst for novelty begins in the eye itself.

Paper in Nature

Harvard Press Release

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