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J Cogn Neurosci. 1989 Spring;1(2):121-35. doi: 10.1162/jocn.1989.1.2.121.

Why does the brain have so many visual areas?

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Department of Psychology, Vanderbilt University, Nashville.


Mammals vary in number of visual areas from a few to 20 or more as a result of new visual areas being added to the middle levels of processing hierarchies. Having more visual areas probably increases visual abilities, perhaps in part by allowing more stimulus parameters to be considered. Proposals that each visual area computes and thereby "detects" a specific stimulus attribute have so far dealt with attributes that most mammals can detect and thus do not relate to the issue of species differences in numbers of areas. The problem of forming and maintaining complex patterns of interconnections between many different sets of distinct processing models within an area may limit multiplying functions within a field. In addition, the adding of new visual areas is a way of avoiding constraints on modifying existing visual areas that are imposed by the ongoing functional requirements. Thus, increasing the number of visual or other cortical areas is an effective and apparently common mechanism for evolving new capacities.


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