• UCSBgauchos twitter avatar
    Softball: UCSB Closes Out Mary Nutter Classic With Losses to No. 8 Washington, No. 21 Arizona State https://t.co/F5JGYXZ9Ty
    6 hours 19 min ago
  • UCSBgauchos twitter avatar
    WWP: Gauchos Defeat No. 16 UCSD in Final Game of Barbara Kalbus Invitational https://t.co/ieJb9ZsJIq
    6 hours 20 min ago
  • UCSBgauchos twitter avatar
    .@UCSB_Baseball walks off in wild series finale, clinches sweep of Tulane! RECAP >>> https://t.co/Q4akiOPaVh https://t.co/6pWsFLhNmf
    8 hours 50 min ago
  • ArtsandLectures twitter avatar
    Celebrate the traditions of the gaucho with Argentina's #CheMalambo on Sunday, Apr 23 at 7PM at UCSB Campbell Hall.… https://t.co/z7Qvi0p9UV
    17 hours 11 min ago
  • ucsantabarbara twitter avatar
    #UCSB professor Luyendyk never intended ‘Zealandia’ to be a new continent's name. https://t.co/aB4RRpsEUj
    18 hours 19 min ago
  • UCSBgauchos twitter avatar
    Softball: Altmeyer Smashes Two Homers, Including Walk-Off Winner in 6-5 Win Over No. 20 Missouri https://t.co/Upedr26iud
    1 day 3 hours ago
  • UCSBgauchos twitter avatar
    Jacob Delson had 34 kills, most by UCSB MVB player since 2010, but Gauchos drop tight five-setter at UCI. RECAP >>>… https://t.co/q5KGaJXpXe
    1 day 5 hours ago
  • UCSBgauchos twitter avatar
    Women's Tennis: UC Santa Barb. 0, Washington 7 (Final) UCSB Falls to 34th-ranked Washington, 0-7 https://t.co/bERvf7q21G
    1 day 6 hours ago
  • UCSBgauchos twitter avatar
    WWP: Gauchos Split Games on Day Two of Barbara Kalbus Invitational, Face No. 16 UCSD Tomorrow https://t.co/C2cigLAaAg
    1 day 7 hours ago
  • UCSBgauchos twitter avatar
    WBB: UCSB Drops Decision At #BWCWBB Leading UC Davis 70-61 To Close Regular Season Road Campaign https://t.co/Bj1F1AtnZM
    1 day 9 hours ago
  • UCSBgauchos twitter avatar
    .@UCSB_Baseball's offense explodes, Cohen goes yard twice in 14-1 rout of Tulane! RECAP >>> https://t.co/8weh6VX0IB https://t.co/2IvFPM1wKS
    1 day 9 hours ago
  • ucsantabarbara twitter avatar
    From theory to practice, this week's #GauchoCourse prepares soon-to-be professors for the real world. https://t.co/DAj0nUIwAw
    1 day 19 hours ago
  • UCSBgauchos twitter avatar
    MVB: Gauchos snap 7 match losing streak with emphatic sweep of UCSD on Friday night. RECAP >>>… https://t.co/Cee1KbeXOh
    2 days 4 hours ago
  • UCSBgauchos twitter avatar
    Women's Tennis: UC Santa Barb. 2, Oregon 5 (Final)
    2 days 7 hours ago
  • UCSBgauchos twitter avatar
    WBB: Gauchos Face First-Place UC Davis Looking to End Two-Game Skid https://t.co/wRGTYxtxDC
    2 days 8 hours ago

Your Brain on Exercise

Psychologists design an experiment to investigate whether human vision is more sensitive during physical activity
Monday, February 13, 2017 - 11:15
Santa Barbara, CA

Your Brain on Exercise photo.jpg

Equipment setup

Participants rode stationary bikes while wearing a wireless heart rate monitor and an EEG cap.

Photo Credit: 

COURTESY PHOTO

Giesbrecht and Bullock.jpg

Giesbrecht and Bullock

Barry Giesbrecht and Tom Bullock

Photo Credit: 

Sonia Fernandez

It’s universally accepted that the benefits of exercise go well beyond fitness, from reducing the risk of disease to improving sleep and enhancing mood. Physical activity gives cognitive function a boost as well as fortifying memory and safeguarding thinking skills.

But can it enhance your vision? It appears so.

Intrigued by recent findings that neuron firing rates in the regions of mouse and fly brains associated with visual processing increase during physical activity, UC Santa Barbara psychologists Barry Giesbrecht and Tom Bullock wanted to know if the same might be true for the human brain.

To find out, they designed an experiment using behavioral measures and neuroimaging techniques to explore the ways in which brief bouts of physical exercise impact human performance and underlying neural activity. The researchers found that low-intensity exercise boosted activation in the visual cortex, the part of the cerebral cortex that plays an important role in processing visual information. Their results appear in the Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience.

“We show that the increased activation  — what we call arousal — changes how information is represented, and it’s much more selective,” said co-author Giesbrecht, a professor in UCSB’s Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences. “That’s important to understand because how that information then gets used could potentially be different.

“There’s an interesting cross-species link that shows these effects of arousal might have similar consequences for how visual information is processed,” he continued. “That implies the evolution of something that might provide a competitive advantage in some way.”

To investigate how exercise affects different aspects of cognitive function, the investigators enlisted 18 volunteers. Each of them wore a wireless heart rate monitor and an EEG (electroencephalogram) cap containing 64 scalp electrodes. While on a stationary bicycle, participants performed a simple orientation discrimination task using high-contrast stimuli composed of alternating black and white bars presented at one of nine spatial orientations. The tasks were performed while at rest and during bouts of both low- and high-intensity exercise.

The scientists then fed the recorded brain data into a computational model that allowed them to estimate the responses of the neurons in the visual cortex activated by the visual stimuli. They analyzed the responses while participants were at rest and then during low- and high-intensity exercise.

This approach allowed them to reconstruct what large populations of neurons in the visual cortex were doing in relation to each of the different stimulus orientations. The researchers were able to generate a “tuning curve,” which estimates how well the neurons are representing the different stimulus orientations. 

“We found that the peak response is enhanced during low-intensity exercise relative to rest and high-intensity exercise,” said lead author Bullock, a postdoctoral researcher in UCSB’s Attention Lab. “We also found that the curve narrows in, which suggests a reduction in bandwidth. Together, the increased gain and reduced bandwidth suggest that these neurons are becoming more sensitive to the stimuli presented during the low-intensity exercise condition relative to the other conditions.” 

Giesbrecht noted that they don’t know the mechanism by which this is occurring. “There are some hints that it may be driven by specific neurotransmitters that increase global cortical excitability and that can account for the change in the gain and the increase in the peak response of these tuning profiles,” he said.

From a broader perspective, this work underscores the importance of exercise. “In fact, the benefits of brief bouts of exercise might provide a better and more tractable way to influence information processing — versus, say, brain training games or meditation — and in a way that’s not tied to a particular task,” Giesbrecht concluded.

Contact Info: 

Julie Cohen
(805) 893-7220
julie.cohen@ucsb.edu