April 24, 2014
Science Daily/Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology
A novel technique to test brain waves is being used to see how the brain processes external stimuli that do and don't reach our awareness. "When we have different things competing for our attention, we can only be aware of so much of what we see," said a researcher on the study. "For example, when you're driving, you might really be concentrating on obeying traffic signals." But say there's an unexpected event: an emergency vehicle, a pedestrian -- will you actually see the unexpected, or will you be so focused on your initial task that you don't notice?
By focusing your attention and concentrating more fully on what you are experiencing, however, the executive function of the brain can come into play and provide "top-down" control -- putting a brake on the alpha waves, thus allowing you to see things that you might have missed in a more relaxed state.
"We found that the same brain regions known to control our attention are involved in suppressing the alpha waves and improving our ability to detect hard-to-see targets," said Diane Beck, a member of the Beckman's Cognitive Neuroscience Group, and one of the study's authors.
"Knowing where the waves originate means we can target that area specifically with electrical stimulation" said Mathewson. "Or we can also give people moment-to-moment feedback, which could be used to alert drivers that they are not paying attention and should increase their focus on the road ahead, or in other situations alert students in a classroom that they need to focus more, or athletes, or pilots and equipment operators."