There has been a problem with studying the human brain. It has been possible to look at activity in terms of where it is happening using fMRI but there is poor resolution of time. On the other hand activity can be looked at with a good deal of time resolution with MEG and EEG but the spatial resolution is not good. Only the placement of electrodes in epileptic patients has giving clear spatial and temporal resolution. However, these opportunities are not common and the placement of the electrodes is dictated by the treatment and not by any particular studies. This has meant that much of what we know about the brain was gained by studies on animals, especially monkeys. The results on animals have been consistent with what can be seen in humans, but there is rarely detailed specific confirmation. This may be about to change.
Researchers at MIT are using fMRI with resolutions of a millimeter and MEG with a resolution of a millsecond and combining them with a method called representational similarity analysis. They had subjects look at 90 images of various things for half a second each. They looked at the same series of images multiple times being scanned with fMRI and multiple times with MEG. They then found the similarities between each image’s fMRI and MEG records for each subject. This allowed them to match the two scans and see both the spatial and the temporal changes as single events, resolved in time and space.
“We wanted to measure how visual information flows through the brain. It’s just pure automatic machinery that starts every time you open your eyes, and it’s incredibly fast. This is a very complex process, and we have not yet looked at higher cognitive processes that come later, such as recalling thoughts and memories when you are watching objects.” This flow was extremely close to the flow found in monkeys.
It appears to take 50 milliseconds after exposure to an image for the visual information to reach the first area of the visual cortex (V1), during this time information would have passed through processing in the retina and the thalamus. The information then is processed by stages in the visual cortex and reaches the inferior temporal cortex at about 120 milliseconds. Here objects are identified and classified, all done by 160 milliseconds.
Here is the abstract:
“A comprehensive picture of object processing in the human brain requires combining both spatial and temporal information about brain activity. Here we acquired human magnetoencephalography (MEG) and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) responses to 92 object images. Multivariate pattern classification applied to MEG revealed the time course of object processing: whereas individual images were discriminated by visual representations early, ordinate and superordinate category levels emerged relatively late. Using representational similarity analysis, we combined human fMRI and MEG to show content-specific correspondence between early MEG responses and primary visual cortex (V1), and later MEG responses and inferior temporal (IT) cortex. We identified transient and persistent neural activities during object processing with sources in V1 and IT. Finally, we correlated human MEG signals to single-unit responses in monkey IT. Together, our findings provide an integrated space- and time-resolved view of human object categorization during the first few hundred milliseconds of vision.”
http://www.kurzweilai.net/where-and-when-the-brain-recognizes-categorizes-an-object - review of paper: Radoslaw Martin Cichy, Dimitrios Pantazis, Aude Oliva, Resolving human object recognition in space and time, Nature Neuroscience, 2014, DOI: 10.1038/nn.3635