Professors from the UCSB Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences recently completed a study on the human brain that shed light on how certain cerebral processes of the brain enable a person to locate lost items.

The area of the human brain called the lateral occipital complex (LOC) practices object recognition, in which it enables one to ignore distractions and recall where a lost object is likely to be found. Researchers found that the LOC uses “scene context” to find such objects, which essentially means the LOC will locate areas in a given scene where an item is most likely to be found.

According to psychology professor and researcher Miguel Eckstein, the study reveals the importance of the LOC, as he said this area is crucial in carrying out complex human brain processes that lead to remembering the location of a lost item.

“The LOC does all sorts of interesting things, such as inhibiting activity-related possible distracters to our search, enhancing activity related to what we are looking for and representing information about where [the] object we are looking for is likely to appear,” Eckstein said in an email.

However, Eckstein said the LOC was previously not thought to be capable of having such abilities be relevant to the present moment.

“A decade ago, it was thought that LOC was a general object recognition area, but did not relate to a person’s current goals, such as finding a specific object,” Eckstein said in an email. “What we are learning in recent years is that the LOC seems to be quite involved in representing objects related to our current goals.”

According to Eckstein, the study is instrumental in providing insight into how even the most typical everyday functions of the brain actually entail a vast number of complicated steps.

“I think [the study] is simply to have [people] realize behind something that seems as simple as visual search — that we do automatically, and take for granted — are incredibly complex computations to which we devote a significant part of our brains.”

According to Barry Giesbrecht, associate psychology professor and researcher, understanding such brain functions can expand the database of human knowledge and will contribute to further medical research by allowing researchers to develop more treatments and greater diagnostic abilities.

“Understanding the fundamental mechanisms of brain function is one of the final frontiers in science, and contribution to that knowledge is absolutely critical and is beneficial in its own right,” Giesbrecht said in an email. “The idea is understanding the fundamental mechanism of the brain will facilitate the development of new drugs and clinical treatments.”


A version of this article appeared on page 3 of May 28, 2013′s print edition of The Daily Nexus.