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If that’s a TV, this must be the den

To the brain, scenes are sums of objects

To one part of the brain, a bathroom equals toilet plus tub.

In mental terms, certain scenes are sums of their objects, researchers report online September 4 in Nature Neuroscience. The results help explain how people quickly and accurately recognize complicated scenes such as playgrounds, kitchens and traffic intersections.

Much of what scientists know about vision comes from studies of how people see simple objects in isolation, such as a line floating on a white screen, says cognitive neuroscientist Dirk Bernhardt-Walther of Ohio State University. The new work, in contrast, deals with messy, real-world scenes. “It’s an awesome study,” he says.

A number of different brain areas are involved in telling us where we are, each relying on different types of information. In cases where the general outlines of a place offer little information, it appears, the brain homes in on specific objects within that space.

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