Researchers say that the human brain seems to be more flexible than previously thought because it can rewire itself within seconds to compensate for a break in incoming data.
Daniel Dilks and his colleagues, at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, say that it is known that the brain is constantly adapting throughout our lives, for example by generating new neurons well into adulthood.
AdvertisementHowever, they add, they wanted to investigate as to how quickly the brain can adapt, and does it always involve creating new circuits.
For that purpose, say the researchers, they took advantage of the blind spots that occur naturally in our eyes where the optic nerve exits the retina, reports New Scientist magazine.
The brain normally combines images captured by both eyes to fill in the resulting gaps in vision, but the researchers prevented this in 48 volunteers by patching one eye.
Dilks' team later identified where the blind spot was for each volunteer's other eye, and then presented an image of a square right next to it.
He says that the volunteers initially saw a square, but reported that within seconds it had morphed into a rectangle, by extending its edge into the blind spot.
According to him, the change in what the volunteers saw was so fast that it must be due to the brain redirecting signals through pre-existing circuits rather than forging new connections.
Based on their observations, the researchers came to the conclusion that the neurons which would normally fill the blind spot using data from the patched eye compensated by stealing data from neighboring neurons that were "seeing" the square, making it appear like a rectangle.
A research article on their study report has been published in the Journal of Neuroscience.