How the Brain Focuses While Ignoring Distractions

 

Experimenting on mice, they located the precise spot in the brain where distracting stimuli are blocked. The blocking disables the brain from processing these stimuli, which allows concentration on a particular task to proceed.

Edward Zagha, an assistant professor of psychology, and his team trained mice in a sensory detection task with target and distractor stimuli. The mice learned to respond to rapid stimuli in the target field and ignore identical stimuli in the opposite distractor field. The team used a novel imaging technique, which allows for high spatiotemporal resolution with a cortex-wide field of view, to find where in the brain the distractor stimuli are blocked, resulting in no further signal transmission within the cortex and, therefore, no triggering of a motor response.

“We observed responses to target stimuli in multiple sensory and motor cortical regions,” said Zagha, who led the study published today in the Journal of Neuroscience. “In contrast, responses to distractor stimuli were abruptly suppressed beyond the sensory cortex.”

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