What Art Can Tell Us About the Brain

Dana Alliance member and Professor of Neurobiology Margaret S. Livingstone, Ph.D., spoke about art and the brain on Tuesday night at this year’s annual Irving H. Jurow Lecture at New York University’s College of Art and Science. Her lecture demonstrated to the audience how looking at art reveals how we see and what mechanisms are at work in the brain to create visual perception.

All artists use lines in their works to create shapes that are interpreted by the brain as specific contours or forms. Center-surround antagonism enables edge detection and contrast enhancement within the visual cortex. Livingstone explained center-surround antagonism as a process by which light creates signals, also known as action potentials, in retinal cells. Certain cells in our visual field are excited while other cells fail to fire. Neurons in our visual cortex are either activated or inhibited to create an accurate depiction or mental map of what we see.

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An illustration in Livingstone’s presentation that demonstrates how color and luminescence affect what we see in markedly different ways.

Painting and art rarely represent realistic accuracy even though they are photorealistic. Shadows, reflections, and perspectives defy the laws of physics and, very often, artists emphasize and play with how our vision works and how we see. Our visual system involves two processing streams that originate from the retina— the higher visual cortex ventral stream (the “what” system) and the older and more ancient dorsal stream (the “where” system). The ventral stream recognizes a specific object such as a bike or an animal and the dorsal system allows us to sense where objects are in space, including depth and position.  The dorsal stream is colorblind—the “what” system can see colors but the “where” system can’t.

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Get Up, Stand Up: NYU Panel Examines Policy

Guest post by Carl Sherman

Scientists should advocate for what they believe in—and bring their values to work. “Get up, get into it, be involved,” said Clancy Blair, professor of cognitive psychology at New York University. “Be the change you want to see.”

Blair was on an NYU faculty panel at a Brain Awareness Week event, “Neuroscience, Inequality & Social Policy,” organized by the Scientist Action and Advocacy Network (ScAAN) a group of students and researchers who aim “to bridge the gap between science and society, and make science a force for social change,” according to moderator and doctoral student and ScAAN member Stephen Braren.

To the panelists, this clearly and passionately meant fostering social and economic justice.

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Photo courtesy of Stephen Braren

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The Beautiful Brain: The Drawings of Santiago Ramón y Cajal

Blending art and neuroscience, a new exhibit in New York City showcases the drawings of Santiago Ramón y Cajal, the father of modern neuroscience. The exhibit opened yesterday at New York University’s Grey Art Gallery, and you have until March 31 to take it in.

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A drawing by Cajal of astrocytes in the hippocampus of the human brain. Image: Instituto Cajal del Consjo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas, Madrid/CSIC

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Brain Day at NYU!

After being re-scheduled due to inclement weather, New York University’s Brain Day at NYU Langone Medical Center took place last Thursday, April 13th as part of BraiNY and the Dana Alliance’s celebration of Brain Awareness Week. The event included a Brain Fair in the breezeway where various booths demonstrated experiments and provided information on the brain. There were also models of brains to examine and play with, and some free Dana Alliance materials and publications, too!

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This year’s Brain Fair at NYU Langone Medical Center.

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New Video on Dana Alliance Member Wendy Suzuki

The Huffington Post recently published an article on neuroscientist Wendy Suzuki, highlighting her research on exercise and the brain. She is a Dana Alliance member and professor of neural science and psychology at New York University. In the article, Suzuki says:

Exercise is not going to cure Alzheimer’s or dementia but it anatomically strengthens two of the key targets of both diseases, the hippocampus and the prefrontal cortex. Your hippocampus will be bigger if you exercise regularly, so that means that it’s going to take that much longer for the plaques and tangles of Alzheimer’s disease to cause behavioral effects.

For a detailed look into her lab and research, watch the video below. To read the full Huffington Post article, click here.

For more articles on Suzuki, check out these blog posts.

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