Anatomy of Perception: Identifying Two Visual Streams in the Brain



In the 1980s, very little was known about how and where visual perception takes place in the brain. Understanding the biology behind one of nature’s most influential senses would require significant research efforts.


Through meticulous animal studies, IRP researchers led by Leslie G. Ungerleider, Ph.D., and Mortimer Mishkin, M.D., identified two separate streams for processing visual inputs—dorsal projections from the visual cortex to areas within the parietal lobe, and ventral projections from the visual cortex to areas within the temporal lobe. The team further showed that the dorsal stream deals with the spatial location of objects and other information needed for action, while the ventral stream deals with the shape, color, and other identifying features required for object recognition.


By advancing our understanding of the binary pathways in the brain dedicated to visual information, Drs. Mishkin and Ungerleider provided a theoretical framework that paved the way for many later investigations on the mechanics of vision—such as face recognition, visual attention, and spatial memory—and by extension, on the processing of information gleaned from the other senses, such as hearing and touch.


Mishkin M, Ungerleider LG. (1982). Contribution of striate inputs to the visuospatial functions of parieto-preoccipital cortex in monkeys. Behav Brain Res. Sep;6(1):57-77.

Macko KA, Jarvis CD, Kennedy C, Miyaoka M, Shinohara M, Sololoff L, Mishkin M. (1982). Mapping the primate visual system with [2-14C]deoxyglucose. Science. 1982 Oct 22;218(4570):394-7.

Ungerleider LG, Mishkin M. (1982). Two cortical visual systems. In D.J. Ingle, M.A. Goodale & R.J.W. Mansfield (Eds.) Analysis of Visual Behavior (pp. 549–586). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Mishkin M, Ungerleider LG, Macko KA. (1983). Object vision and spatial vision: two cortical pathways. Trends in Neurosciences. 6:414-17.

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This page was last updated on Friday, August 11, 2023