Study Explains Why the Brain Can Robustly Recognize Images, Even without Color

The findings also reveal why identifying objects in black-and-white images is more difficult for individuals who were born blind with cataracts and had their sight restored.

Even though the human visual system has sophisticated machinery for processing color, the brain has no problem recognizing objects in black-and-white images. A new study from MIT offers a possible explanation for how the brain comes to be so adept at identifying both color and color-degraded images. Using experimental data and computational modeling, the researchers found evidence suggesting the roots of this ability may lie in development. Early in life, when newborns receive strongly limited color information, the brain is forced to learn to distinguish objects based on their luminance, or intensity of light they emit, rather than their color. Later in life, when the retina and cortex are better equipped to process colors, the brain incorporates color information as well, but also maintains its previously acquired ability to recognize images without critical reliance on color cues. The findings are consistent with previous work showing that initially degraded visual and auditory input can actually be beneficial to the early development of perceptual systems.

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