Studies in multi sensory integration

The anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) has been reported as anticipating, processing and responding to premonitions, facilitating an individual’s innate response to danger. (Yapp, 18/02/2005).  This has been corroborated by the research accomplished at Washington University using functional magnetic resonance imaging (Edelson, 2005) with conclusions published in a recent edition of ‘Science’ Journal (February 18th 2005 edition).  This facet of the brain is located near the top of the frontal lobes and is apparently responsible for individuals making judgements based on hard, fact-based reasoning and emotional responses such as love or fear (Brown, Washington University, 2005).  This can be closely associated with the theory of sensory integration recognised over 20 years ago (Bundy and Murray, 2002: 11) and its associated dysfunction, DSI which Lane et al (2000: 2) defines as the “inability to modulate, discriminate, co-ordinate or organise sensation adaptively”.

Where the brain processes information systematically transmitted to it from the peripheral faculties it needs to be able to categorise this data within an archetypical configuration of impulses in order to make sense of it. The relationship between the brain's ability to function effectively and organise this data into an efficient format, and this stimuli from the various senses, is now recognised, as the result of A J Ayres' study (1972), as the reason why individuals behave in a particular manner. As stimuli are received within each peripheral modality an immediate analysis ensues, after which each sensation enters the ACC whereby a multi-sensory integration occurs (Pierno, 2001).

Through evidence of multi-sensory integration it has been noted that insufficient recognition of stimuli within individual senses, or effusive stimuli in other senses, result in the brain being unable to correlate enough information correctly, resulting in a dysfunctional sensory system. A determining anatomical feature is the cortical link between the visual and auditory cortices. As a result, suitable remedies can be investigated by engaging various individual faculties such as the vestibular or proprioceptive senses to encourage modulation of any ineffectual transmission, encouraging a hierarchical response within the cortex to establish a more pertinent configuration of impulses. The more precise information emanating from the brain ensures more efficient discriminate sensory capabilities ensure 'motor planning' and physical interacting with people and objects are more perspicacious. Miller and Lane (2000) recognised this as a "capacity to regulate and organize the degree, intensity and nature of responses to sensory input in a graded and adaptive manner", whilst the converse was described as "a constellation of symptoms related to aversive or defensive reactions to non-noxious stimuli across one or more sensory systems" - a sensory modulation problem revealed in an excessive state of alertness, emotional tone and stress (Wilbarger and Wilbarger, 2002: 335). This essay focuses on these studies in multi-sensory integration and attempt to explain how they are now considered to tell us more than those which concentrate simply on individual senses

DISCUSSION Perceptual processes being governed by the physical environment is a comparative recent area of research, following recognition of principles of multi-sensory integration. Previously, studies mainly concentrated on qualitative responses to individual experiences, although a cognitive interaction was being established between sensory faculties with impulse pathways, whilst in motion, being traced within the cortex eliciting important processing information across inter-modality synapses (Stein and Meredith, 1993). It has now been revealed that previous perceptions of studies of the individual senses failed to elicit the importance of focusing on moving stimuli associated with other sensory modalities.

Neuro-imaging studies have revealed a correlation between behavioural and neuro-scientific attributes which evince an integrated perception of motor co-ordination and a parallel awareness of potential disaster (Yapp, 18/02/2005). When the ACC was not being stimulated it still remained extremely responsive to stimuli and exhibited strong activity (Raichle et al, 2001). Evidence of this was established in the most recent findings associated with the latest study from the University of Washington (, 2005). Research associate, Joshua Brown explained that the experiments were dependent upon the brain initially being 'fooled'.

Brown explains that as "some of them had begun to figure it out, at least on a subconscious level" the activities revealed through the fMRI images showed increased activity (Edelson, 2005). Brown explained that "It appears that this part of the brain is somehow figuring out things without you necessarily having to be consciously aware of it". Associate professor of psychology at the University of Michigan suggests that these findings "have the potential of unifying different approaches to the anterior cingulate cortex", providing an answer to individuals' responses to errors and to various negative events, both of which have potential implications in treating a number of psychiatric deficiencies.

Broca's Area This facet within the motor cortex of the brain controls the speech function and, in 97% of people, is found on the left side of the brain (Miller and Thompson, 2003). When damaged, speech appears severely slurred as words are unable to be formed properly, although language impairment is unaffected. The sound waves associated with speech are picked up within the cochlea which is attached to the auditory nerve, formed from the eighth cranial nerve within the auditory cortex. The parietal and temporal lobes lie within close proximity, the junction of which is known as Wernicke's area and is responsible for language comprehension. Damage to Wernicke's area does result in a loss of language ability, although those individuals do not lose the power of speech: words, however, are put together in an incomprehensible format.

Visual and Auditory Cortex Evidence has shown an anatomical link exists between the visual and auditory cortices, with a particularly strong influence exhibited by visual stimuli on both auditory and tactile motion. When visual information from the eyes travels to the primary visual cortex it is next transmitted to the posterior speech area, where Wernicke's area can be found. The information is then relayed to Broca's area, the motor cortex, after which it is transmitted to the primary motor cortex which provides the muscle contractions necessary to emit any required sound (Hudson, 2000: 153). For speech to be produced it is necessary for the primary auditory cortex, rather than the visual cortex, to be invoked (Miller and Thompson, 2003).

Anterior Cingulate Cortex As far back as 1947 it was recognised that certain individuals failed to exhibit concern over mistakes being made, with those same people being described as 'apathetic' (Rylander, 1947; Eslinger and Damasio, 1985). Many studies have involved the ACC, some dividing it between affective processes and cognitive processes (Allman et al, 2001; Bush et al, 2000; Paus, 2001). Research undertaken by Critchley et al appear to focus on Nauta's approach (1971) involving adaptive physiological criteria. Damasio et al and Critchley et al both focused on the dorsal ACC where they observed a specific cognitive division involving the autonomous nervous system inter-reacting with transmissions from motor neurones to elicit physical responses in an individual's body.

CONCLUSION The correlation between the functioning of the motor cortex and the sensory cortex was revealed through Critchley et al's research, and studies of other psychologists involved with similar studies. However, until recently understanding of the role the ACC played in respect of conflict, emotions and error perception had never been adequately resolved (Carter et al, 1998; Falkenstein et al, 2000). It had already been recognised that autonomic responses were responsible for behavioural adaptations, with pain resolution recognised as being involved. However, until the most recent research had been published from the University of Washington, no actual evidence had been established (Brown and Gehring cited in Edelson, 2005).

Theta activity during periods of sustained attention could measure cognitive control on the neurophysical index in terms of electrophysical responses and, although evidence related it to autonomic functioning an explanation as to why this occurred had never, until now, been established (Kubota et al, 2001). The sympathetic nervous system was thought to provide the link, with the activity generated from the ACC and linked through the structures within the brainstem and connections within the cortices (Allman et al, 2001). This link was observed to link the lateral frontal and the parietal areas to the ACC from which strategic control of body placement is initiated (MacDonald et al, 2000). The question remained as to where the link between this strategic control and autonomic control could be resolved.

This research reveals that the theory of sensory integration and the diagnosis of DSI which Lane et al (2000: 2) defined as the "inability to modulate, discriminate, co-ordinate or organise sensation adaptively" was a valid concept. Ayres' recognition of individual peripheral senses relaying sensations to the ACC for integration pre-empted further research that culminated in the results recently disclosed by Professor Gehring and his team at the University of Washington (Edelson, 2005). As a result of this earlier work, the study of psychology was radically transformed. The focus on analysis into the individual senses endeavoured to amalgamate the appreciation of multi-sensory integration to incorporate the correlation between all the peripheral faculties and the prominence exhibited by the ACC.


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