February 16, 2011

034 How Lateral Inhibition Enhances Visual Edges

In this video, Leslie explains all about lateral inhibition using two rectangles. Watch to learn how this process helps us see edges of objects more clearly. Enjoy!

Transcript of Today’s Episode

Welcome to another episode of Interactive Biology TV, where we’re making biology fun! My name is Leslie Samuel. In this episode, Episode 34, I’m going to talk about how lateral inhibition enhances visual edges. What am I talking about? Well, you’re going to see right now.

Here, we have 2 rectangles. One is darker and the other is lighter. It’s just a solid gray color over here, and a solid darker gray, almost black color, over here. What I’m going to do is I’m going to show you something that’s quite fascinating, at least it’s fascinating to me. It illustrates how visual processing can lead to some interesting things. To a certain extent, it shows that what you see is not always what’s there.

What am I talking about? Well, what I’m going to do is I’m going to take this gray rectangle over here and I’m basically going to move it towards the other one. We’re going to see what happens. Remember it’s a solid gray color, the same color that I have over here, it’s the same color that I have over here, and throughout the entire rectangle. Now let’s put them together and see if anything happens. So I’m just going to move the one on the right towards the one at the left. And now, hopefully you can see this, depending on the monitor that you’re using, you may or may not be able to see this, but I’m guessing you will be able to see it.

What you’re going to notice here is right here at the border, you’re going to see that here is just a little lighter than over here. So before, it looked like a solid gray object, and I really hope you see this, or else this is pointless, and over here now, we’re seeing that it’s darker here than it is over here. If you don’t see it, look closely at the monitor and see if you see a little bit of a lighter edge here.

Now, is that lighter edge there? No, it really isn’t. But there’s something that’s happening inside your eye that’s making it seem as if it’s lighter over here and a little darker over here, you might be able to see that also. So, lighter on this side, and darker on this side, just a little bit. What we’re going to do is look at why that’s the case.

The main idea, though, is that the brain is set up to enhance visual edges so that you can see the edges more clearly. I find this to be very fascinating because to me, it illustrates that maybe what we see might not actually be what is there. And I don’t know how much that extends into everyday life, but it’s an interesting concept nonetheless. Now, let’s look at the cells that we have in the retina.

We looked at this already. We said that here we have the rods and this would be a cone, we said that here we have a horizontal cell, and here we have ganglion cells, and we also have amacrine cells. This is just a review of an earlier episode. The cell that I’m most concerned with now in terms of this process is the horizontal cell. You can see here, we have a number of rods, and we have a cone, and this horizontal cell goes laterally, and it connects to multiple rods and even connects to some of the cones. This is where the processing that enhances those visual edges starts.

So it’s happening in the retina, this entire thing is in the retina. What happens is if it’s getting a lot of intense stimulation from a group of rods over here, that causes this horizontal cell to inhibit some of the other cells so you do not get as much stimulation from those receptors that are not stimulated as intensely as these over here. So we have a strong stimulation coming via these rods or these receptor cells, and that’s causing inhibition of some of the cells that are not being stimulated as much. This process is called lateral inhibition, and to me it’s a very fascinating concept, showing that strong activity over here can inhibit activity in another area.

That’s all I want to cover in this episode. That’s it for this video. If you have any questions or comments, go ahead and leave them below, and I’ll be happy to take a look at them, and maybe even answer the questions that you might have. That’s all for now, and I’ll see you in the next video.

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