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December 25, 2013

Blindsight is enough to pick emotions

While most of us take the acute visual awareness or ‘Conscious Vision’ for granted, there’re a few within us who can’t enjoy this privilege. They’ve perfectly normal eyes but they don’t have the same awareness of what is being seen at the moment. This unusual phenomenon is called as ‘Blindsight’ which is an unfortunate result of damage to Primary Visual Cortex (PVC), the rear/dorsal area of human brain which processes visual information gathered by eyes. However, this sight isn’t entirely ‘blind’ at all. Now, you mst be wondering - How it’s possible?

Actually, this so-called ‘Blindsight’ is much more watchful and judgmental than our conscious visual awareness or ‘Conscious Vision’. The persons suffering with blindsight subconsciously react to visual information being gathered by their eyes. They don’t consciously at all realize what is being seen but they unmistakably react to the incoming visuals by evaluating them subconsciously. They sense and react but they don’t realize what exactly they’ve seen. It’s as if they’ve an additional sense or 'Sixth Sense', apart from the five senses.

What if someone tells you that you don’t need to consciously look at the faces (of other persons) to pick emotions on them? Is it really possible for you and if yes then exactly HOW? Do only faces can express and convey different emotions? How to identify emotions if facial cues are not available? Is reading the mind possible only by looking at the rest of the body?

These are the few basic questions Prof. Dr. Beatrice D. Gelder (a renowned Cognitive Neuroscientist and Neurophysiologist) and her team has conducted an elaborate experiment at Tilburg University to find answers for. What they call this amazing (or “supernatural”) ability to pick emotions without clear visual clues is as ‘blindsight’ (?). It's really interesting!

Faces with emotional expressions

She conducted an elaborate scientific experiment in a lab with a numerous individuals (or subjects) having or suffering from blind sight or blind vision which is a phenomenon in which visual cortex in one hemisphere of brain gets damaged due to stroke which ultimately leads to the deficiency of conscious visual perception or clue collection.

(Affective) Blindsight or Blind Vision is the residual visual ability in the patients who has suffered damage to their primary visual cortex (V1, striate cortex). They react reliably to the emotional degree of stimuli presented to their blind visual fields but they cannot consciously report presence and properties of the stimuli.

Bodies expressing different emotions

Her team found that the patients responded unconsciously by moving or twitching muscles of their own faces to mimic the same emotions when different emotionally charged faces were shown to the eye of patients suffering from the blind sight or blind vision phenomenon. Movements and twitches of their facial muscles were recorded with sensors.

This is a revolutionary discovery about our brain's ability to pick emotions in others. Her work was published by Scientific American journal. Also, a short clip on the entirely experiment was broadcasted in the episode “Is there a Sixth Sense?” of the famous scientist documentary series called as “Through the wormhole”.

Please kindly watch the below clip (link: thoroughly to understand what she and her team tried to reveal or unearth circuits or parts inside our brain that help us to decode emotional clues on faces and bodies of others without conscious visual perception of them.

This so-called subconscious sight, secret sight, inner vision or 'Sixth Sense' works for normal persons too, including you. We quickly evaluate or judge emotional cues given by body language of others but we don’t consciously realize that we’ve already done it.

[#Special Note: Prof. Dr. Beatrice D. Gelder currently works in Maastricht University, Netherlands. She once had written an email to me about this site, commenting as “Very Interesting!”, when she was working in Tilburg University, Netherlands. Know more about her on Wikipedia.]

Related Articles:
1) Basic Emotional Expressions 2) Recognizing emotional expressions: Scientific viewpoints

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