So much of the brain is involved in vision and visual perception that almost any brain damage can have an impact not only on how a person sees, but also on how a person interacts with the world.
Furthermore, studying how vision works also says a lot about neuroscience and how the brain works.
Crawford’s research focusses on three specific areas. In the first, he studies a perceptual phenomenon called trans-saccadic integration that helps the brain piece together what the eye sees and interpret it as a seamless image. In truth, the way the eye moves is jumpy: it alternates between fixating on a specific point and jumping to the next location in abrupt movements called saccades.
Crawford also looks at how vision guides arm and hand movements, and the mechanisms that result in eye-hand coordination and grasping. Lastly, he looks at how vision guides where we look, and how this drives the movement of both the head and the eyes to control visual gaze.
“One thing I do that really no one else is doing in the world, is examine the three-dimensional aspects of how the eyes and the head rotate as we move gaze around ourselves and glance at different things, and how different brain structures contribute to that function,” explains Crawford.
Together, these studies cover a broad range of fields, and Crawford notes that collaboration is key in studying vision.
“If you want to get at the big questions, often you have to gather together both the theoretical knowledge and also the ability to use different technologies,” says Crawford. “That’s very much the case for my research and our VISTA program, where we’re bringing together computer scientists, neuroscientists, and people in the arts, to go after those big questions.”
One of those big questions is how to use knowledge and technology to improve quality of life as medicine continues to extend longevity. Understanding the brain and vision could help deliver more independent years as people age.
These insights into how vision and action are related could open all kinds of applications in neuroscience, health, and medicine.