for National Geographic News
Do we all see the natural world in the same way?
To answer that age-old question, a group of Israeli researchers went to the movies. Using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), the scientists monitored the brain activity of volunteers as they watched the classic Clint Eastwood Western The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.
Their surprising answer: Our brains tick together.
The research showed the brain-activity patterns of people watching the same movie look very similar, regardless of their gender and age. Viewers tend to focus on the same faces and objects, even when they are looking at complex scenes.
"This similarity was so strong that you could take a small part of one subject's brain and predict what will be the activity in the corresponding part of the brain of another person watching the same movie," said Rafael Malach, of the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel, who co-authored the study.
The experiment also showed that different brain areas actually pick up different types of scenes, from a close-up of an actor to an outdoor scene.
"Although we have a strong subjective feeling of unity when we watch a movie, this is actually built up of a sort of orchestrated jam session of activity in many brain areas," said Malach. "Each becomes active depending on what is being shown on the screen."
The findings could help neuroscientists better map and understand our brains, and it may even help diagnose mental diseases in the future.
The research is published in this week's issue of the journal Science.
Scanning the Brain
Neuroscientists and psychologists have long debated the question: To what extent do our brains operate alike?
Typical neuroimaging studies have generally been simple, abstract, and highly controlled. Volunteers may have been asked to move dots on a computer screen or respond to single-object pictures.
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