Vision for Perception and Vision for Action in the Primate Brain Academic Article uri icon


  • Visual systems first evolved not to enable animals to see, but to provide distal sensory control of their movements. Vision as 'sight' is a relative newcomer to the evolutionary landscape, but its emergence has enabled animals to carry out complex cognitive operations on perceptual representations of the world. The two streams of visual processing that have been identified in the primate cerebral cortex are a reflection of these two functions of vision. The dorsal 'action' stream projecting from primary visual cortex to the posterior parietal cortex provides flexible control of more ancient subcortical visuomotor modules for the production of motor acts. The ventral 'perceptual' stream projecting from the primary visual cortex to the temporal lobe provides the rich and detailed representation of the world required for cognitive operations. Both streams process information about the structure of objects and about their spatial locations--and both are subject to the modulatory influences of attention. Each stream, however, uses visual information in different ways. Transformations carried out in the ventral stream permit the formation of perceptual representations that embody the enduring characteristics of objects and their relations; those carried out in the dorsal stream which utilize moment-to-moment information about objects within egocentric frames of reference, mediate the control of skilled actions. Both streams work together in the production of goal-directed behaviour.

publication date

  • December 1, 1998