From pain to defensive actions: saliency detection as a reactive process

Giandomenico Iannetti

Professor of Neuroscience, University College London

Fellow, Paris Institute of Advanced Studies



From pain to defensive actions: saliency detection as a reactive process

16 July 2018, 12.30 p.m. “DPG-1” Meeting Room
“Psico-1” Building, ground floor
Via Venezia 8, Padova

The most important function of the nervous system is to relate us to the rest of the world
through perception and action. Both consciously and unconsciously, nervous systems uses
information about the environment to make decisions that result in actions appropriate to
cope with the world. Nervous systems are particularly sensitive towards the detection of
salient environmental events that need to be rapidly acted upon, to facilitate survival and
reproduction. The large electrocortical or blood-flow based brain responses elicited by
salient stimuli reflect a basic mechanism through which the human brain detects and
purposefully reacts to behaviourally-relevant sensory events, regardless of their perceptual
quality. These neurophysiological responses elicited by salient stimuli have been traditionally
interpreted within the sensory domain. We recently described a basic physiological
mechanism couples saliency-related cortical responses, which modulate motor output
following a complex triphasic pattern. Thus, sudden environmental stimuli have an
immediate effect on motor reactivity, suggesting that saliency detection is not merely
perceptive but reactive, preparing the animal for subsequent appropriate actions.

Giandomenico Iannetti is Professor of Neuroscience at University College London (UCL), and
also resident at the Paris Institute of Advanced Studies (IEA). He leads a multidisciplinary research
group ( working on sensorimotor neuroscience in humans and rodents. After
a PhD from the University of Rome “La Sapienza” (2003) and a post-doc at the University of
Oxford (2003-2006), in 2006 he was awarded a Royal Society University Fellowship, which he
started at the Univeristy of Oxford. In 2009 he moved to University College London (UCL), where
in 2014 was appointed Full Professor of Neuroscience.