Vision and Mind: Modeling Mental Functions

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For example, by recognizing that attention is both a selective and limited resource, psychologists are able come up with solutions that make it easier for people with attentional difficulties to improve their focus and concentration. Findings from cognitive psychology have also improved our understanding of how people form, store, and recall memories. By knowing more about how these processes work, psychologists can develop new ways of helping people improve their memories and combat potential memory problems.

For example, psychologists have found that while your short-term memory is quite short and limited lasting just 20 to 30 seconds and capable of holding between five and nine items , rehearsal strategies can improve the chances that information will be transferred to long-term memory , which is much more stable and durable. While many cognitive psychologists specialize in research and are employed by universities or government agencies, others take a clinical focus and work directly with individuals who are experiencing challenges related to different mental processes.

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They may work in hospitals, mental health clinics, or private practices. Psychologists who work in this area often focus on a particular area of interest such as memory , while others might instead choose to work directly on specific health concerns related to cognition, such as degenerative brain disorders or brain injuries. The work of cognitive psychologists is essential for helping people who have experienced issues with mental processes. While we tend to take abilities such as attention and problem solving for granted, perhaps because they are so woven into the fabric of our everyday existence, cognitive disruptions can create havoc in multiple areas of an individual's life.

Attention problems can make it difficult to focus at work or at school.

Even relatively minor memory problems can make it a struggle to handle the demands of everyday life. Consider, for example, how negative thinking can interfere with your health and happiness. We all experience these negative thoughts from time to time, but some people may find themselves overwhelmed with pessimistic thinking patterns that make it difficult to function in daily life. These ruminations can lead to increased stress levels, pessimism, and self-sabotaging, and can even contribute to feelings of learned helplessness.

With the help of cognitive psychologists, people are often able to find ways to cope and even overcome such difficulties.


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Therapy treatments rooted in cognitive research focus on helping people change these negative thinking patterns and replace such thoughts with more positive and realistic ones. In addition to adding to our understanding of how the human mind works, the field of cognitive psychology has also had an impact on approaches to mental health. Before the s, many mental health approaches were focused more on psychoanalytic , behavioral , and humanistic approaches.

The so-called "cognitive revolution" that took place during this period put a greater emphasis on understanding the way people process information and how thinking patterns might contribute to psychological distress. Thanks to research in this area by cognitive psychologists, new approaches to treatment were developed to help treat depression, anxiety, phobias, and other psychological disorders.

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Cognitive science - Wikipedia

Cognitive behavior therapy and rational emotive behavior therapy are two methods in which clients and therapists focus on the underlying cognitions that contribute to psychological distress. Therapists can help clients identify irrational beliefs and other cognitive distortions that are in conflict with reality and then aid them in replacing such thoughts with more realistic, healthy beliefs. If you are experiencing symptoms of a psychological disorder that would benefit from the use of cognitive approaches, you might see a psychologist who has specific training in these cognitive treatment methods.

In other words, the content of the mental image primes subsequent dominance in binocular rivalry, just as a weak or low-contrast perceptual stimulus would do.

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Moreover, these effects grow stronger with longer image generation times, whereas increasing periods of applying attention to a particular stimulus does not modulate this priming effect [12]. Furthermore, particular experimental manipulations can attenuate the priming effect of imagery while leaving intact the effect of prior attention [12]. Thus, imagery can be dissociated from visual attention along at least two different dimensions.

Hence, the facilitative effect of a prior stimulus increases as the strength or presentation duration increases until it reaches a tipping point, when the effect reverses and leads to reduced facilitation and increased suppression Figure 1 [12,15,16]. Behavioral data thus far show that the effect of imagery on subsequent perception is limited to the facilitation range, and not suppression Figure 1 B, right panel for a review see [2]. Imagery Resembles a Weak Version of Perception. A A useful way to conceptualize mental imagery is as a weak form of sensory perception. B A schematic illustration of the effects of prior perceptual stimuli at different strengths and of imagery on subsequent perception.

The left graph shows hypothetical data for prior perceptual stimuli at different strengths e. Low-contrast prior stimulation facilitates subsequent detection [16] or binocular rivalry dominance [12,15] , whereas high-contrast prior stimulation will induce a suppressive aftereffect. By contrast, on the right graph, imagery only facilitates subsequent perception. Overall, imagery acts much like weak perception. Schematic data plots are based on data from [12,15]. If mental imagery is conceived of as a type of top-down perception, visual features such as luminance or brightness should also be preserved in imagined representations and should have similar effects on physiology.

Indeed a recent study demonstrated exactly that: the brightness of the imagined stimulus had a reliable and predictable effect on pupil constriction, as it does during perception [17]. In addition, brain imaging work has provided compelling evidence that visual mental images arise from activation of the same types of visual features that are activated during visual perception. Several studies have explicitly modeled the representations encoded in activity during perception and then used the model to decode mental images from brain activity. To our knowledge this explicit modeling approach — known as voxel -wise modeling and decoding VM — was first applied to mental imagery in [18].

This landmark study designed a voxel-wise model of tuning to retinotopic location i. Consistent with the evidence for retinotopic organization in mental imagery [19] , models of retinotopic tuning during visual perception could be used to identify and even reconstruct mental images of the stimuli Figure 2.


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This diagram summarizes an organizing principle that is implicit in the fMRI literature on visual mental imagery. Here the ventral stream is coarsely grouped into early visual areas shaded brain region, left panels that represent low-level visual features e.

For purposes of illustration, we consider hypothetical multivoxel populations comprising just two voxels in the early visual cortex left and two voxels in the higher visual cortex right. Activity patterns are represented as vectors in a 2D space in which the axes correspond to the two hypothetical voxels. In the early visual areas, activity associated with mental imagery has a lower signal-to-noise ratio SNR than activity associated with perception.

This means that the mean activity vector black arrow evoked by visualizing a particular stimulus is shorter than the mean activity vector evoked by actually seeing a corresponding stimulus, while the spread of activity patterns around the mean activity vector arc length is larger. In the higher visual areas, the SNR associated with mental imagery is not as severely attenuated. It could be argued that imagining simple, blob-like stimuli that are optimized to engage area V1 is a special case of mental imagery that may be unrelated to the rich, complex imagery we generate and use daily.

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However, the representation of low-level visual features is conserved even when people visualize complex, multi-object scenes such as photographs and artwork [20]. Performance was lower than that for actual perception, but still much better than that expected by chance. Furthermore, sensitivity to both perceptual orientation and location in visual space has been linked to the anatomy of V1 [22,23]. Likewise, mental imagery precision of spatial orientation and location in retinotopic space are both associated with the size of V1 [24].

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In fact, the precision of both mental imagery and visual perception is correlated with the size of area V1, providing further support for the commonalties between the two. Together, these studies show that activity patterns in the visual cortex are not merely similar across visual mental imagery and perception: activity patterns encode a common set of visual representations. When considered in light of the behavioral evidence reviewed above, these results lend further support to the conceptualization of visual mental imagery as a weak or noisy form of top-down perception that can in some cases take the place of bottom-up perception.

Introduction: Neuroanatomy Video Lab - Brain Dissections

Although mental imagery and visual working memory both involve the ability to represent and manipulate visual information, research on the two topics has diverged into two separate literatures that rarely reference one another [25]. Because of the different behavioral measures and tasks used, it has proved challenging to establish the degree of commonality between the two functions.

When participants in visual working memory experiments are asked to describe the strategies they use to complete the memory task, they tend to describe one of two different strategies.

One involves creating a mental image to compare with the subsequent test stimuli [26—28] ; the other strategy involves picking out particular details of a scene or array and encoding them phonologically or verbally, which is then compared with the test stimuli [26,28,29]. Recent behavioral work supports these subjective reports of different strategies [29,30] but see [31].

This behavioral work directly compared the sensory strength of mental imagery and different measures of visual working memory. Individuals with stronger mental imagery had greater precision and higher capacity in visual working memory tasks, but not in iconic or verbal working memory tasks [29,30]. Furthermore, only those participants with strong sensory imagery were perturbed by the passive presence of uniform background luminance during visual working memory storage, but not in a verbal working memory task.

Modeling Mental Functions, 1st Edition

Importantly, the creation of visual mental images is also perturbed by the presence of uniform passive luminance [12,32]. In addition, in a similar vein to visual imagery, the content of visual working memory can bias perception [33] and can facilitate detection in the neglected hemifield of visual extinction patients [34]. Taken together, these behavioral data suggest that those with relatively strong mental imagery utilize it to perform a visual working memory task whereas those with weaker imagery tend to rely on nonvisual strategies.

Brain imaging work has demonstrated overlap in the neural representation of visual working memory and mental imagery.

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