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Just 108 milliseconds! Study reveals remarkable speed of food recognition in human brains

This article explores the rapidity at which the human brain recognizes food through visual cues and its potential implications for promoting healthier food choices.

Just 108 milliseconds! Study reveals remarkable speed of food recognition in human brains snt
First Published Oct 18, 2023, 1:05 PM IST

The impact of food visuals on our mental processes can be influenced by various factors, such as our hunger, personal food preferences, and emotional state. However, recent research has provided insights into the cognitive processes and the speed at which the human mind identifies food in its environment.

A recent study conducted at the University of Sydney, Australia, offers a fascinating discovery, as reported in the New Scientist. The study reveals that the human brain has the remarkable ability to recognize food objects in an astonishingly brief time span of just 108 milliseconds. This newfound understanding of visual food perception holds the potential to be harnessed in advertising to encourage healthier dietary choices.

Despite the vital role that vision plays in food selection, there is still much that scientists do not know about how we process food, according to Tom Carlson at the University of Sydney. "This is unexpected given the significant role vision plays in food selection," he says. "For our ancestors, vision was the primary sense used for distant foraging, since senses like smell have limited range in humans."

To explore this further, Carlson and his colleagues conducted experiments with 20 participants, who viewed various images of food and non-food items. The electrical activity of each participant's brain was closely monitored using electroencephalograms.

"Some of the electrical activity data was used to train machine-learning models, with a unique model for each participant. Their brains would probably respond similarly to the various images, but the researchers wanted the models to be tuned to each individual," said Carlson.

The researchers used the data on electrical brain activity to develop machine-learning models, creating a unique model for each participant. Although the responses of participants' brains to various images were likely to be similar, the researchers fine-tuned the models to suit each individual's unique brain activity patterns.

Through various experiments and practical exercises, the cognitive response triggered by food images was thoroughly assessed. What the researchers discovered was that specific brain signatures, representing distinct patterns of brain activity associated with particular cognitive processes or states, emerged in an astonishingly short timeframe: between 108 to 116 milliseconds following exposure to food images.

As Carlson explains, it takes only about 40 to 60 milliseconds for visual information to travel from the retina to the cortex, and shortly after that, this rapid brain response to food imagery becomes apparent.

The researchers believe that this deeper understanding of the visual aspects of food perception has the potential to guide individuals toward making healthier dietary choices.

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