• Question: What part of our brain do we use when we are searching for something?

    Asked by lilltemisslucielawsonbraniacgirl to David, Jonathan, Ou, Pete, Sam on 31 May 2012.
    • Photo: Pete Etchells

      Pete Etchells answered on 31 May 2012:

      Great question! I’m a vision scientist, and we do quite a lot of work on how we search for things. The answer to your question is that we use quite a lot of our brain, if not most of it! We use areas for making decisions, in the frontal lobes – we need to decide what it is that we’re going to look for. We also you a lot of areas of the brain that are to do with vision and moving. So we’ll use areas like the superior colliculus and cerebellum (which are very, very old parts of the brain) to co-ordinate our eye and head movements when we’re looking around. We also might use parts of the cortex that are involved in colour and motion processing (called V4 and V5), to help distinguish between things that are moving and things that aren’t, and to tell the difference between things of different colours.

      We might also use parts of our motor cortex, if we need to move our bodies around a room to search for something. If we’re looking for the source of a smell, we’ll use a part of our brain called the olfactory bulb, which processes smells and helps us to figure out what it is. If we’re looking for something like an alarm that’s going off, we’ll use the parts of our brain that process sound (for example, the primary auditory cortex). And if we’re looking for something that we’ve lost, then we might use the parts of our brain that store memories, to try and remember where it was the last time that we saw it (so things like the hippocampus, striatum, and mamilliary bodies). If it’s something scary that we’re trying to find, we might use the amygdala, which helps us with processing threatening things.

      So I guess the answer to your question, really, is that we use all of our brain!