Research out of York U creates new model for errors in visual response

New findings out of York University show that during a visual task, errors accumulate during a memory delay with more errors arising in the transition from memory to action. The research comes from Professor Doug Crawford’s Visuomotor Neuroscience Lab, with biology PhD candidate Amirsaman Sajad as first author.

Biology PhD candidate Amirsaman Sajad with Professor Doug Crawford
Biology PhD candidate Amirsaman Sajad with Professor Doug Crawford

The study, published April 16 in the online journal eNeuro, shows how neural activity in the frontal cortex initially reflects the visual goal accurately, but errors accumulate during a memory delay, and further escalate during the final memory-to-motor transformation.

“Think of all the times you see something and plan to act on it, but after only a short delay you make a mistake,” explains Crawford. “For example, before my morning coffee kicks in, I’m great at making silly mistakes, like putting the honey away in the fridge, instead of the peanut butter.”

The researchers recorded signals in the frontal cortex during the delay between target-related visual activity and intended gaze-related motor activity. The visual response and memory activity for the time in between was then analyzed.

“We looked at what happens from vision to memory to action, and how does the spatial code change through time in the frontal cortex,” says Crawford.

What they found, he says, was that frontal eye field delay activity shows a progressive transition through intermediate target-gaze codes. Further to that, they recorded the coding of the intended gaze position with no delay response. The analytical comparison identifies errors accumulating during the memory delay, and increased errors in the memory to motor function.

The findings are of particular significance to research in diseases affecting frontal cortex function, says Crawford, because “if errors accumulate in healthy individuals, the accumulations would be much worse with diseases that affect frontal cortex function”.

This type of finding, he says, can be used as a model for pharmacological research to see the influence of manipulating these same cells on error accumulation at the behavioral level.

The team continues to investigate and analyze data by recording from other parts of the brain, and looking at the outcomes when the brain endures more errors.

By Ashley Goodfellow Craig, YFile deputy editor