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A study led by the Higher Council for Scientific Research (CSIC) has analyzed the selective attention processes that determine the way we explore and interact with our environment through eye-tracking techniques.
For this, the researchers have studied the path that the eyes take when observing different decorative patterns represented in prehistoric ceramic objects.
The results, published in the journal Scientific Reports, indicate that there is a parallel evolution between the cognitive process, material development and social complexity.
Researchers have examined the visual response of 113 individuals when observing prehistoric ceramic pieces belonging to different styles and societies. The ceramics analyzed cover 4000 years of the prehistory of Galicia (from 4000 BC to the change of era) and are representative of ceramic styles, such as bell-shaped ceramics, present in much wider regions. The results indicate that visual behavior shows the same evolutionary trends as the complex societies that built these archaeological settings.
“We raise the possibility that cultural and social life influences the cognitive process. Eye movements are the most objective proof that there is a parallel evolution between the cognitive process, material development and changes in social complexity ”, explains the CSIC researcher Felipe Criado-Boado, of the Institute of Heritage Sciences.
This study falls within a new scientific field: neuroarchaeology; a discipline that combines neuroscience with human paleontology, archeology and other social and human sciences.
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“The visual prominence of each ceramic style produces a different visual response. Prehistoric pottery comprises an important part of the material world that surrounded the individuals of that time. That is why an analysis of this type is not only feasible, but also provides very significant results ”, adds the CSIC researcher.
Luis Martinez-Otero, a researcher at the Institute of Neurosciences, explains that
«In our brain there are neural circuits, or maps, that represent our personal and peripersonal space. These circuits determine the way in which we interact socially and also with the world around us. With this type of experiment, we are showing that these representations are altered by the use and design of tools and other cultural artifacts; What we are discovering is that they are incorporated very quickly into these neural maps, becoming part of our body scheme as if it were an extension of it. These experiments unequivocally demonstrate that there is a very close interaction between cultural changes and brain plasticity, which provides a new perspective on how the brain enables the transmission of cultural values, beliefs and customs.
The results of this study suggest that the human visual recognition system very actively internalizes the object it observes, which would show that there is a perceptual coupling between observers and the material structures of their environment.
“For this reason, perception cannot be separated from form. From this perspective it can be postulated that the shape of objects (ceramics in this case) and the pattern of visual exploration they produce have changed throughout history, and are connected with cognitive behavior in the same way as they are with the social realm, including social complexity, ”he continues.
Another of the conclusions of this work is that technology is an important factor in the mental aspects of human life. This offers a new perspective that helps to understand the processes of innovation and technological change that occur in all historical epochs, including those in which we are still immersed.
“It is believed that by 2020 there will be 100 billion sensors around the world capturing information of all kinds and processing it digitally, all connected to each other and functioning like a large human brain. If this prediction is fulfilled, research in the field of cognitive processes and material culture throughout history may be of use in the future, so that it can show how humans trust the images that they help to form a collective imagination, "concluded Criado.
This study is a collaboration between researchers from the Institute of Heritage Sciences, in Santiago de Compostela, the Institute of Neurosciences (mixed center of the CSIC and the Miguel Hernández University), in Alicante, and the University of Santiago de Compostela.
Felipe Criado-Boado, Diego Alonso-Pablos, Manuel J. Blanco, Yolanda Porto, Anxo Rodríguez-Paz, Elena Cabrejas, Elena del Barrio-Álvarez, and Luis M. Martínez. Coevolution of visual behavior, the material world and social complexity, depicted by the eye-tracking of archaeological objects in humans. Scientific Reports. DOI: www.nature.com/articles/s41598-019-39661-w.
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