Monitoring the mental activity of mice watching movies
At long last, we have a way to find out what mice think of movies. Or what their brains are doing while they watch movies— we haven’t really found which piece of gray matter indicates the mice’s opinions on cinematography or characterization, although we’re working on that. At this point, some things have been attributed to what mice are seeing, such as strong vertical shapes, or the presence of another animal, but with any luck, and possibly your help, we’ll be able to really plot out what part of the brain is paying attention to what, allowing us to really understand what mice think of Orson Welles as a director.
A screening to see what mice see
Orson Welles is of interest thanks to the film Touch of Evil, which is one of the many visual stimuli being played for mice running on treadmills while their brain activity is monitored. The movie was selected thanks to the high contrast, and hopefully easier-to-parse, black and white imagery. Additionally, the famous uninterrupted, three-and-a-half minute opening shot is thought to be easier for mice to follow than something like an Edgar Wright movie‘s frantic editing. It’s important for the mice to understand the subject matter to a degree, but for these experiments, seeing how the decipher complicated images is of value as well.
The mice involved in this experiment were selected not for their media criticism skills, but for their specially engineered brains, which were designed to be easily monitored by computer hookups. With around 18,000 specially marked neurons, researchers are able to see how mouse brains react to different visuals in different parts of their visual cortex. As more and more stimuli can be compared to brain activity, we should be able to start mapping what portions of the brain are responsible for specific visual perception tasks.
To really make these maps work, lots of data will obviously be necessary, as well as lots of good ideas of how to sort through it all. To this end, the brain activity of these mice is actually being shared online as it’s gathered, which is a key component of the Allen Brain Observatory‘s mission. While researchers onsite are setting the mice up with movies and pictures to look at, the analysis of the activated neurons can be shared with people around the world. By pooling our collective brain power, we’ll hopefully be able to make sense of what mice brains “see” a bit faster. From there, we’ll apply some of the uncovered patterns and maps to humans, since presumably we’re getting at least as much out of Touch of Evil as the mice are.
Source: A Mouse Watches Film Noir And Offers Clues To Human Consciousness by Jon Hamilton, NPR Shots