Medical Research Council - London Institute of Medical Sciences

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Watch Your Step!
31 December 2012

Watch Your Step!

Despite what we may think watching shows like America’s Funniest Home Videos most humans are remarkably adept at moving around without tripping or bumping into obstacles. This hazard-avoidance represents the brain’s precise coordination of sensory inputs – look! An approaching custard pie! – with motor outputs – duck! To understand how the brain achieves this, scientists asked volunteers to wear head-to-toe suits installed with air jets targeted to regions of the face and body (pictured), and scanned their brains as different jets were activated. Stimulating different body parts activated different parts of the brain’s parietal cortex – which integrates sensory inputs. Showing the volunteers images of balls flying towards their faces not only lit up the same brain area as air jets to the face, it also activated areas representing other body regions. The results suggest the brain contains a precise body map that helps us stay safe and out of embarrassing home videos.

Written by Ruth Williams

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