Who would have thought that flies and humans had something in common? Well, scientists have. Turns out that flies perceived motion in static images, just as some humans did. A mystery on how some people see motion in visuals may have been unveiled, thanks to flies.
The research was conducted at Damon Clark’s lab, associate professor of molecular, cellular, and developmental biology and of physics and of neuroscience at Yale. Two researchers, Margarida Agrochao and Ryosuke Tanaka, of the lab, introduced flies with optical illusions. They wanted to make sure if the flies perceive the motion in the optical illusion, just as humans do.
Reportedly, flies have a tendency of turning their bodies toward the motion they perceive and they did the same move after the illusion was introduced to them. While all these were happening, researchers also monitored the flies’ neuron activity, thanks to their small brains.
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After the researchers were done with examining the flies’ perception, it was now time for humans to get involved in a similar experiment. 11 participants were asked to address the motion they saw in the illusion. The results unfolded a similar mechanism as of flies’. Expectedly, humans’ visual systems were more complex than flies but a similar result surprised the researchers.
“It was exciting to find that flies perceive motion in static images the same way we do,” explained Clark.
Researchers monitored that particular neurons managing motion detection create a pattern of responses. To change flies’ perception, they turned those neurons on and off. When they turned off two types of motion-detectors, the illusion was not perceivable for flies anymore.
They most probably appeared to insects as motionless, plain visuals. When researchers turned off just one neuron, the illusion started to move in the opposite direction than it first appeared.
The result the researchers reached was that the differences in detector neurons controlled whether flies react to the illusions.
In the end, two different species not quite related to each other possess a similar mechanism in perceiving visual illusions. And having a better understanding of the common mechanism in the future expectedly may help researchers in analyzing the visual system of humans.