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A Vision for Research

Takeo Watanabe, director of BU’s Vision Sciences Lab, was appointed to NIH’s Central Visual Processing Study Section.

Takeo Watanabe, professor of psychology and director of the Boston University’s Vision Sciences Laboratory, was recently appointed to serve as a member of the Central Visual Processing Study Section in the National Institutes of Health’s (NIH) Center for Scientific Review. The term begins immediately and runs through June 2010.

The Central Visual Processing Study Section reviews research on vision, ranging from the development, aging, structure, and function to disorders of those portions of the brain, eye, and extra-ocular muscle system that produce visual sensations of brightness, color, space, form, motion, depth, as well as pupil contraction and eye movements.

“It felt very good to be recognized as a researcher whose comments are regarded as reliable,” says Watanabe. His responsibilities will include reviewing about ten grant proposals every four months, and making recommendations to the appropriate NIH national advisory council or board. He will also have to survey the status of research in his field and give comments on approximately 50 other proposals.

Toni Scarpa, director of the Center for Scientific Review, spoke highly of Watanabe in a letter to University Provost David Campbell, writing that “service on a study section such as Central Vision Processing requires mature judgment and objectivity as well as the ability to work effectively in a group, qualities that we believe Dr. Watanabe will bring to this important task.”

Study group members are selected on the basis of demonstrated competence, achievement, and honors in their fields, writings in scientific journals, and other significant scientific accomplishments. Watanabe’s most recent research, which focused on consciousness and subliminal stimuli, was published in the December 15, 2006 issue of Science and was picked up by media outlets worldwide. 

“People usually think that the less noisy an environment is, the more efficiently a task can be performed. However, we found that a task is most severely disrupted when a noise is so weak that it cannot be perceived, in other words, when it is subliminal,” Watanabe explains. “Using fMRI, a cutting-edge brain imaging technique, we found that the pre-frontal cortex, which is known to suppresses noises that are irrelevant to a given task, did not notice subliminal noises and, as a result, failed to suppress them. This is the first evidence that clearly indicates a neural mechanism of processing subliminal signals and a reason why subliminal signals in some cases are very effective to our lives.”

Meghan Noé can be reached at mdorney@bu.edu.