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Our Brains Are Incredibly Fast At Spotting Food, Taking Just 108 Milliseconds, Says Study

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Experts investigate the time-course of food representations in the brain.

The impact of food visuals on our mental processes can be influenced by various factors, such as our hunger, personal food preferences, and emotional state. However, recent research has provided insights into the cognitive processes and the speed at which the human mind identifies food in its environment.

According to a report in the New Scientist, a recent study from the University of Sydney, Australia, reveals that our brains have the capability to recognize food objects in a mere 108 milliseconds. This newfound understanding of visual food perception could potentially be leveraged in advertising to promote healthier choices.

Scientists know very little about how we process food, says Tom Carlson at the University of Sydney, Australia. “This is unexpected given the significant role vision plays in food selection,” he says. “For our ancestors, vision was the primary sense used for distant foraging, since senses like smell have limited range in humans.”

Mr Carlson and his colleagues had 20 people look at various images of different food and non-food items. The electrical activity of each person’s brain was monitored via an electroencephalogram, as reported by the media outlet.

“Some of the electrical activity data was used to train machine-learning models, with a unique model for each participant. Their brains would probably respond similarly to the various images, but the researchers wanted the models to be tuned to each individual, says Mr Carlson.

Various experiments and practical exercises were conducted to evaluate the cognitive response triggered by food images. Researchers discovered that distinct brain signatures, representing unique patterns of brain activity associated with specific cognitive processes or states, emerged within a timeframe of 108 to 116 milliseconds after exposure to food images.

“It takes 40 to 60 milliseconds for information to go from the retina to the cortex, so it’s not much longer after that that we’re seeing this response,” says Mr Carlson.

As per the researchers, gaining a deeper understanding of the visual dimensions of how individuals perceive food has the potential to guide them toward making healthier dietary choices.

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