Public Release: 

The brain's solution for seeing as is and seeing flexibly

New experiments support distinct roles for 2 brain pathways in processing information about objects

Society for Neuroscience


IMAGE: The dorsal (upper) pathway sees objects according to what they are and what we do with them while the ventral (lower) pathway sees objects as they always are. view more 

Credit: Maryam Vaziri-Pashkam and Yaoda Xu

New experiments described in The Journal of Neuroscience support distinct roles for two brain pathways in processing information related to an object, with one carrying a largely invariant representation of an object and the other a flexible one depending on what we do with an object.

Visual information is thought to be processed in two different routes in the brain: A ventral pathway carries information about "what" an object is while a dorsal pathway represents "where" an object is in space. Recent studies have challenged this distinction by demonstrating robust object "what" information in the dorsal pathway. This leaves open the questions of how object processing differs between the two pathways and whether a two-pathway distinction is still valid.

Maryam Vaziri-Pashkam and Yaoda Xu addressed these questions by having seven healthy adults focus on the color or shape in photographs of common objects spanning eight categories including faces, cats and chairs. Participants pressed a button when either the same object or same color appeared back to back. The authors found that the dorsal pathway sees objects according to what they are and what we do with them, grouping objects in the same task setting together. The ventral pathway, on the other hand, sees objects as they always are regardless of the task. This distinction captures two seemingly conflicting aspects of visual information processing: To truthfully represent an object and at the same time represent that information flexibly according to goals and desires. The finding helps to clarify the roles of each pathway in visual processing.


Article: Goal-directed visual processing differentially impacts human ventral and dorsal visual representations

Corresponding author: Maryam Vaziri-Pashkam (Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, USA),

About JNeurosci

The Journal of Neuroscience (JNeurosci) is the flagship journal of the Society for Neuroscience. JNeurosci publishes papers on a broad range of topics in neuroscience in a print edition each Wednesday and recently began publishing early-release PDFs of studies online shortly after acceptance.

About The Society for Neuroscience

The Society for Neuroscience is the world's largest organization of scientists and physicians devoted to understanding the brain and nervous system. The nonprofit organization, founded in 1969, now has nearly 37,000 members in more than 90 countries and over 130 chapters worldwide.

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