3i - Visual Recognition

Posted by Helen St Clair Tracy in Level 3 - Introduction to the Visual Brain
Published: 07/03/2019, 12:11am | Updated: 15/03/2019, 6:21am

Video Link: https://vimeo.com/323531450

We introduced the recognition part of the learning process in lesson 2g and lesson 2h, please review these lessons if necessary.

In the previous lessons in this level, we introduced some of the different processes created in different parts of your brain, that come together to reproduce what you are looking at, as the mental image of the visual world you experience and move through.

But...when you look at something clearly, how do you know what you are looking at?

 What can you see here?  How do you know? What can you see here? How do you know?

Looking at the image above, what are you looking at?

In terms of brain processing, the better question is: 'How do you know what it is?'

How do you know what it is?

Let's consider the blue coffee filled cup in the above picture. How did we recognise this?

In our brain are memories, almost endless memories, from all our experiences in life, from our very first breadth. These memories are ordered in our temporal lobes, like in a library, or in great filing cabinets (lesson 1e), so that when we come across something in life, it can be matched with something we already know (have remembered) and this allows us to make sense of what is happening and act accordingly.

These memories are mostly in your temporal lobes, and broadly separated between the left and right temporal lobes.

 In the right temporal lobe are complex memories, formed from multiple experiences and existing memories, on the left side the memories are more systematic. In the right temporal lobe are complex memories, formed from multiple experiences and existing memories, on the left side the memories are more systematic.

So how did we recognise the blue cup with coffee?

  • The colour blue* - learnt for most as a young child
  • The cup shape - again, probably learnt as a young child by role playing.
  • Coffee - identified easily visually - but coffee has a look, smell, taste and texture. Coffee can be associated with meeting friends, or a morning pick-me-up, and more

So coffee is a multi-sensory, multi layered, complex memory (right temporal lobe).

So, when we see the blue cup with coffee, our brain sends signals with the visual (and other sensory information) go on a dash along pathways to the correct parts of the brain, to find a match and inform your conscious brain (in your frontal lobe, see lesson 1f) what you are looking at. That's how you know it is a blue cup and saucer with coffee.

Thinking specifically of visual recognition, the information in the primary visual cortex (lesson 3b) travels in two directions.

  • 1) To the posterior parietal lobes, where the depth map (lesson 3f) and visual attention (lesson 3g) are given to the image, so you know where it is and...
  • 2) To the temporal lobes, for recognition, so you know what it is.

Some call these the what and where pathways, and we shall be explaining them in more detail in the next lesson (lesson 3j).

If the quality of the image the brain creates is altered, by any of the visual processes we have described in the preceding lessons, then learning what it is, can be difficult.

Where am I?Where am I?

In the following lessons we will be looking at many examples of where the visual information produced by the brain isn't simply less or absent, but, as experienced by many with CVI, the visual information is:

  • Inconsistent
  • Unreliable

And this makes learning much more difficult.

Eye (Ocular) Vision Impairments

Impairments due to the eyes and their optic nerves are sometimes called ocular visual impairments. Think in terms of the visual pathways we have described, but the alteration or reduction in visual information is due to impaired function of the eyes or optic nerves, so what goes to the occipital lobes is an incomplete or completely absent image to process - so what then goes along the where and when pathways? It could be argued therefore, that everyone with an ocular visual impairment, by virtue of the altered visual information in the visual brain, in a sense, also has a cerebral visual impairment because the brain is unable to form the mental picture to recognise of learn from.

Temporal Lobes Recognition Problems

One cause of recognition difficulties is when the visual information is not good enough (as described briefly above). Another, is when the visual information may be extremely clear, but there is a recognition problem. This may be due to the temporal lobes not working well. The challenge looks the same - something is not recognised, but the difference between not recognising due to visual difficulties and not recognising due to temporal recognition difficulties could not be more different. Once again - it is important to know why?

It is easy to understand that if the pictures being sent to the brain from the eyes are blurred, then they may not be clear enough to recognise.

It is harder to understand why someone with normal or near normal mental pictures, can't work out what they mean. This means that difficulty recognising is a much more hidden disability, and so may not be identified as a reason for 'learning difficulties'.

Difficulty recognising what is seen from an early age can result in difficulties learning language.


Most people make sense of what they are looking at using language. The blue coffee cup and saucer - how could they be understood without language?

Language, by labelling what is experienced, is a key part of the recognition process (not just visual, but across all of your senses and experiences). But... recognition is a key part to learning language - they need each other.

CVI can make learning language more difficult, for many reasons including:

  • Language used is for those with typical vision, and does not allow for what is not seen and so may not make sense.
  • Words may not be spoken clearly or slowly enough to be recognisable
  • Words may not be consistently matched with the thing they are describing
  • Language may be too complicated

With those most profoundly affected by CVI, lack of language not only creates a barrier to learning and communication, but also to LOOKING, which needs what is being looked at, to be recognised and understood, so as to match the linked descriptive language sounds.

Language and visual recognition and understanding are very closely linked.

This area of language and recognition is complicated to understand, but is also critical to understand, because this is one of the main reasons people with CVI have learning difficulties, and it does not have to be the case. We will be dedicating future lessons to this area with comprehensive explanations and suggestions.

*Some children with CVI can appear not to see certain colours, however this is extremely rare, and a much more common reason for appearing to not see certain colours is because they do not recognise them, because they haven't learnt them, and need to be taught (this will be explained in a future lesson).


Before you move onto the next lesson, please check:

  • You understand the recognition process is critical to learning.
  • You understand there are different causes to recognition difficulties.
  • You understand the reasons for knowing the cause of the recognition difficulty.

Next lesson: Level 3j An Introduction to the Visual Brain - Visual Pathways


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