Linking Perception to Action

A UC Santa Barbara researcher studying how the brain uses perception of the environment to guide action has a new understanding of the neural circuits responsible for transforming sensation into movement.

“Mapping perception to a future action seems simple,” UCSB neuroscientist Michael Goard. “We do it all the time when we see a traffic light and use that information to guide our later motor action. However, how these associations are mapped across time in the brain is not well understood.”

In a new paper, published in the journal eLife, Goard and colleagues at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology make progress in mapping brain activity in mice during simple but fundamental cognitive tasks. Although a mouse’s brain is much smaller than a human’s, remarkable structural similarities exist. The mouse brain is composed of about 75 million nerve cells or neurons, which are wired together in complex networks that unerlie sophisticated behaviors.

The researchers used large-scale calcium imaging to measure the responses of individual neurons in multiple areas of the brain while mice performed a delayed response task. First, they trained mice to respond to visual stimuli — drifting bars — by either licking or withholding licking, depending on whether the bars moved vertically or horizontally. While the mice performed the task, the investigators recorded neural activity from multiple brain regions thought to be involved — including visual, parietal and frontal motor cortices.

Using a powerful laser-scanning microscope, the team was able to detect the signals from calcium indicators expressed in the neurons well below the brain’s surface. Neurons normally have very low concentrations of intracellular calcium, but when they become active, calcium levels rise, increasing the fluorescence of the indicator and enabling measurement of neuron activity. In this way, the scientists were able to see which neurons were active while the mice performed the delayed response task.

“As expected, we found many neurons that responded only during the visual stimulus or the licking action, but we also found a lot of neurons that responded during other parts of the task,” said Goard, an assistant professor in UCSB’s Department of Psychological & Brain Sciences and Department of Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology. “In the frontal motor cortex, we found quite a few neurons that were active during the delay period between the visual stimulus and motor response. This led us to several new interpretations of the role that different brain regions were playing during performance of the task.”

Based on the neural activity in the different brain areas, Goard and his team then used optogenetics — a method of manipulating the nerve cells with light — to inactivate neurons in a temporally precise manner to identify those that function during different parts of the task. This allowed them to figure out which areas were necessary for performing the task. For example, the team determined that the visual and parietal areas are involved in perceiving the stimulus and transforming that into a motor plan, but only the frontal motor cortex is necessary for maintaining the motor plan over the delay period.

“Using this general approach, we hope to map the essential regions for different types of cognitive tasks,” Goard explained. “We are particularly interested in how mice maintain specific types of memories across distributed brain regions.”

“I want to stir the perception that most of us have of a ‘ginger’ as a white Caucasian individual, potentially of Celtic descent. 

As we struggle with issues of immigration, discrimination and racial prejudice, Mother Nature, meanwhile, follows its own course, embracing society’s plurality and, in the process, shaking up our perceptions about origins, ethnicity and identity.

"I am perplexed that despite being all intrinsically the same from a biological point of view (after all, we all have two legs, two arms, one head), we allow small variations in skin colour, shape, gender etc. to dictate how some individuals should be perceived and treated. Our primal fear of the unknown still yields some snappy and completely irrational behaviours.”


All animals are somebody—someone with a life of their own. Behind those eyes is a story, the story of their life in their world as they experience it. In our culture, we have been encouraged to think of animals as things, as commodities. The great challenge lies in having a change of perception. The realization that they have a life of their own, independent of their utility to me or to anyone else: this is what I am trying to get at when I speak of them as being “subjects of a life.” In this sense, they are exactly like us, equal to us. — Tom Regan

As part of a social experiment to explore bias, 6 photographers took portraits of the same actor, who gave them each a different backstory about himself. The results showed how ‘a photograph is shaped more by the person behind the camera than by what is in front of it.' 


Photo by:  Chris Meredith


Photo by: Franky Tsang


Kate Disher-Quill


Photo by:  Tristan Stefan Edouard


Photo by:  Jin Lim


Photo by: Lyndal Irons  

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Installation by Theoriz is a doorway that leads to virtual perceptions, utilizating head tracking to provide convincing perspective to participating observer:

“If the doors of perception were cleansed, everything would appear to man as it is, infinite.”  - William Blake

Doors is an ongoing research work from our R&D department.

Between reality and virtuality, we are playing with the feeling of perception and infinite space. In this setup we had a real time anamorphic custom software computing the perspective of the nearest person. Through a 4 channel immersive and 3D spatialized sound, people could experience and discover virtual audioreactive landscapes by simply moving in space.


When you’re holding a gun, you see other guns - even if they aren’t there, and especially if you’re a gun owner. A study showed video gamers and gun owners were more likely to perceive shoes and other objects as guns while holding a real gun themselves. Gun owners however, saw more imaginary guns whether the gun they were holding was real or not. Source  Source 2