Integration of information

As Gazzaniga et al. (1998) indicated, "Visual perception is a divide-and-conquer strategy. Rather than have each visual area represent all attributes of an object, each area provides its own limited analysis. Processing is distributed and specialised." This functional specialisation poses difficulties of integration, in that information about an object's motion, colour, and form needs to be combined (Figure 2.17).

The difficult task of integrating information about objects in the visual field is known as the "binding" problem. As yet, little is known of how the brain solves the binding problem. One approach is based on oscillation-binding theory (Engel, Koenig, & Kreiter, 1992). Neurons sometimes exhibit oscillatory activity, in which there are alternating bursts of high and low rates of firing. According to the theory, neurons will tend to oscillate in a synchronised way when they are responding to the same object, and this can help to produce an integrated percept of an object.

Tovee (1996) raises various problems with oscillation-binding theory. Oscillation only seems to occur with moving stimuli, and so the theory cannot apply to static stimuli. In addition, the evidence suggests that oscillations develop too slowly and last for too long for them to contribute to object perception. Tovee argued that there may be less of a binding problem than has sometimes been supposed. The fact that there is only high visual acuity for stimuli presented to the fovea of the retina (combined with attentional focusing) creates "almost a tunnel vision effect, where only the visual information from the centre of the visual field is fully sampled and analysed" (Tovee, 1996, p. 177). The different features of an object are probably integrated or combined "in a subsequent higher integrative cortical area" (Tovee, 1996, p. 179).

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