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The virtual city of Neuralville teaches scientists how to navigate brains



  Neuralville Brain navigates 213314 Web
Andrew Persichetti

Drive over Disney's City Celebration, Florida; Emory University psychologists have built their own settlement – called Neuralville. Only it is not real. It is a simulated city that lives only in the virtual world. And while this sounds no different than the hundreds of virtual apartments found everywhere from Minecraft to The Sims to the Civilization games, Neuralville is a bit different in his ambitions.

Emory University researchers have developed it as a means to unlock the secrets of the human brain by using fMRI (Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging) technology to observe how people's brain responds when they walk on the sidewalks navigate. Specifically, they want to use this model city to map the functions of the cerebral cortex in terms of how people recognize and circle the world.

Neuralville consists of four quadrants that represent city locations and are arranged around a park. The buildings include two cafes, a couple of dental offices, a couple of hardware stores and a few gyms. None of the four quadrants has the same building combination. Also, none of the buildings looks the same.

Participants in the study "ran" through Neuralville with a keyboard. They were then taken to random parts of the city and asked to reach certain places by foot. After 1

5 minutes, they were tested on each building and asked which part of the city it was. Once the participants reached the perfect score of 100% in the test, they were scanned into an fMRI scanner and asked for the location of certain buildings. This series of tasks has been performed several times.

The brain data collected from the study has shown how the human brain uses three different systems to perceive environments: one to recognize a location, another to navigate that location, and a third to navigate from one place to another. The researchers hope to use their work to develop better methods for brain rehabilitation for people with problems in scene detection and navigation. It could also be useful to improve computer vision systems, such as those used for self-driving cars.

"While it's unbelievable that we can show that different parts of the cerebral cortex are responsible for different functions, it's just the tip of the iceberg," said Daniel Dilks, associate professor of psychology at Emory, in a statement. " Now that we understand what these regions of the brain are doing, we want to know exactly how they do it and why they are organized in this way. "

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