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Stanford researchers find that misfiring from jittery neurons sets fundamental limit on perception

a digital illustration of neurons on a black background
Image credit: Getty Images
Apr 8 2020
Fellow, Research, Stanford, Students

Stanford researchers have helped solve a longstanding mystery about how brains manage to process information so accurately, despite the fact that individual neurons, or nerve cells, act with a surprising degree of randomness.

The findings, published online on April 2 in the journal Nature, offer new insights into the limits of perception and could aid in the design of so-called neuroprosthetics – devices that enable people to regain some lost sensory capabilities.

In the new study, the researchers measured the activity of neurons in mice brains as the rodents visually discriminated between similar, but not identical imagery. By analyzing data gathered from around 2,000 simultaneously recorded neurons in each mouse, the researchers discovered strong supporting evidence for a theory that perceptual limitations are caused by “correlated noise” in neural activity.

Study lead author Oleg Rumyantsev is a 2012 William R. Hewlett Stanford Graduate Fellow.