The Carrot

  • Published5 Sep 2012
  • Reviewed5 Sep 2012
  • Source BrainFacts/SfN

You see an orange object. Is it a tiger or a carrot? The winners of our 2012 Brain Awareness Video Contest, graduate student Ariana Andrei, research assistant Anastasia (Stacy) Eriksson, and postdoctoral fellow Marcello Mulas from The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, use sock puppets to explain how different regions of the brain work together to visually identify an object, name it, and translate the name.



NARRATOR: This is Stacy. A student of Italian and a notorious napper.We're going watch her brain in action as she does homework! Okay, not really. That's be kinda boring and complicated, so let's just pretend that a bunch of socks are neurons in her brain. Stacy's brain has many specialized areas.

There are visual areas, like V1 or

primary visual cortex, V4, and the inferior temporal cortex. Decision-making areas, like prefrontal cortex,movement areas,language areas, like Broca's area,emotion areas like the amygdala,memory areas like the hippocampus and diffuse long-term memory structures, and many many others. Now let's see how these different parts work together. 

STACY: Como si chiamo questo ortaggio? (Italian for 'What's the name of this vegetable?') 

PRES. PFC: Sergeant what are we dealing with here? 

SERGEANT: Ladies! What can you see? 

NARRATOR: Early visual areas analyze the world one little piece at a time. These are known as their receptive fields. 

V1: What is that? Do you see orange? I see orange. Oh emerald fields. I see green. It's orange!! It's green and kinda point in' to the right. 

NARRATOR: These different pieces of information move along to higher visual areas that can then analyze more complicated features, like shape. 

V4: It's triangley, and orange. And there's a little green poof, but it's mostly orangey though. 

NARRATOR: Eventually enough information is integrated and we can find neurons that can recognize entire objects! 

 SERGEANT: Alright. Looks like we're dealing with a carrot at 45 degrees, sir. 

PRES.PFC: Good work Sergeant! 

NARRATOR: Meanwhile language areas, such as Broca's area translate this answer into Italian. 

BROCA'S AREA: Carrota. 

 STACY: Carrota! LONG-TERM MEMORY: I remember grandma's carrot soup. It was so delicious. 

NARRATOR: Finally, prefrontal cortex decides what to do. 

 PRES. PFC: Motor ninja! Write that down. 

NARRATOR: It can issue commands to motor areas, such as Write that down. 

MOTOR NINJA: (in Japanese) Yes sir! I will write down carrot! 

NARRATOR: But sometimes even neurons get confused. Especially when they get sleepy… 

STACY: Como si chiamo questo animale? (Italian for 'What's the name of this animal?') 

BROCA'S AREA: What is the name of this animal? 

PRES. PFC: I'm a busy man Sergeant. What's the hold up? 

 SERGEANT: Ladies! 

V1: Oh yes sergeant. What! Oh, him again. What do you want now? 

V4: Yes sarge! 

SERGEANT: You're making us look like a bunch of slackers. For the love of the brain, what are we looking at? 

V1: It's orange! Black! Black! Oh this time I see yellow. 

V4: Yeah well I kinda see it. Its kinda orangey. 

SERGEANT: Your information is conflicting and does not compute! 

PRES. PFC: What's going on down there? 

 STACY: I don't know what that is. 

NARRATOR: As Stacy falls asleep, her thalamus, a very old structure in the brain, sends out waves of electrical activity that cause the cortical neurons to oscillate slowly and synchronously. Now it looks like she's entering REM sleep, which is characterized by fast neural activity, that is similar to the waking state. REM stands for rapid eye movements and is associated with dreaming... 

 V1: Orange! Black! 

 SERGEANT: Carrot! Carrot! Carrot! 

 AMYGDALA: Ahhh! Run! 

 V1: Orange left! Black, black! 

SERGEANT IT: President sir, it's a tiger, sir! 

PRES. PFC: Well of course its a tiger anyone could have seen that! 

STACY: Tigre!

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