Imagination and Reality Flow In Opposite Directions in the Brain

Written by on November 22, 2014 in Sci-Tech, Science with 0 Comments
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By Scott Gordon | University of Wisconsin-Madison

Electrical and computer engineering Professor Barry Van Veen wears an electrode net used to monitor brain activity via EEG signals. His research could help untangle what happens in the brain during sleep and dreaming. Photo by: Nick Berard

Electrical and computer engineering Professor Barry Van Veen wears an electrode net used to monitor brain activity via EEG signals. His research could help untangle what happens in the brain during sleep and dreaming. Photo by: Nick Berard

As real as that daydream may seem, its path through your brain runs opposite reality.

Aiming to discern discrete neural circuits, researchers at the University of Wisconsin–Madison have tracked electrical activity in the brains of people who alternately imagined scenes or watched videos.


“A really important problem in brain research is understanding how different parts of the brain are functionally connected. What areas are interacting? What is the direction of communication?” says Barry Van Veen, a UW-Madison professor of electrical and computer engineering. “We know that the brain does not function as a set of independent areas, but as a network of specialized areas that collaborate.”

Van Veen, along with Giulio Tononi, a UW-Madison psychiatry professor and neuroscientist, Daniela Dentico, a scientist at UW–Madison’s Waisman Center, and collaborators from the University of Liege in Belgium, published results recently in the journal NeuroImage. Their work could lead to the development of new tools to help Tononi untangle what happens in the brain during sleep and dreaming, while Van Veen hopes to apply the study’s new methods to understand how the brain uses networks to encode short-term memory.

During imagination, the researchers found an increase in the flow of information from the parietal lobe of the brain to the occipital lobe — from a higher-order region that combines inputs from several of the senses out to a lower-order region.


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