Ben Laurie blathering

Brain Function a.k.a. Abusing Kittens

As I get the hang of this blogging thing, I realise there’s all sorts of things I talk about that I’m not blogging. Brain function is one of my so-far-unblogged obsessions, and there’s all sorts of fascinating experiments that prove scary things about our brains. For example, the one that shows that women prefer more masculine men when they’re fertile, or the gorilla/basketball experiment, or the sweaty t-shirt experiment (women prefer unrelated men, and can tell by smell). But I won’t bore you with those, because I’m sure you all know about them already (email/comment if I’m wrong, and I’ll write them up).

So, here’s one I read about today that is quite fascinating. You need a body to make your eyes work properly.

Take two kittens. Set up a turntable in an ordinary room and harness one kitten to one side. Put the other in a clear box on the opposite side. The harnessed kitten can wander (OK, only in a circle, but its in charge), whereas the boxed kitten is passively moved, getting the same 3D experience as the harnessed kitten.

Only the harnessed kitten develops depth perception.

Why? Well, the theory is your brain needs the feedback generated by linking what you see with what you’ve told your muscles to do in order to understand what its seeing.

An interesting question: is this vital to learning 3D vision or is it just a deficiency of brains?


  1. My story of this kind involves color vision in cats. I learned this story from a cat-brain researcher in 1967; so I bet I’ve got the details wrong but do I care? The early experimenters showed that cats could see color. Later experimenters attempting to reproduce the experiments were unable to. Conflict ensued as people’s professional reputations were are risk. Finally the mystery was resolved. The early experimenters would immobilize the cats with curare so they could wire up their brains. They concluded that cats can see color when they are terrified; or in the terminology of the trade: highly aroused.

    Meanwhile I have posting on turntables:

    Comment by Ben Hyde — 26 Jan 2006 @ 14:36

  2. […] I wonder if this explains the mean kitten experiment? The mobile kitten can do experiments to figure out what its legs and stuff do, but the immobile one cannot, so the mobile one gets more clues about the motion it sees than the immobile one. […]

    Pingback by Links » Self-modelling Robots — 8 Apr 2007 @ 18:49

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