Measuring attention to detail
Human attention to a particular portion of an image alters the way the brain processes visual cortex responses to that image
Our ability to ignore some, but not other stimuli, allows us to focus our attention and improve our performance on a specific task. The ability to respond to visual stimuli during a visual task hinges on altered brain processing of responses within the visual cortex at the back of the brain, where visual information is first received from the eyes. How this occurs was recently demonstrated by an international team of researchers led by Justin Gardner at the RIKEN Brain Science Institute in Wako.
In a contrast discrimination task, the researchers showed three observers a stimulus of a group of four circles, each containing grey and white bars that created stripes of different contrasts. After a short pause, the researchers showed the circles again, but the contrast within one of the circles was different. The observers were instructed to choose which group of circles contained the higher contrast.
In ’focal cue trials’, an arrow directed the observers’ attention to a particular circle. In ‘distributed cue’ trials’, four arrows directed their attention diffusely, across all four circles. Gardner and colleagues found that the observers’ performance was better in the focal cue trials.
Using a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanner, the research team was able to map the precise location within the visual cortex that was activated by the visual information within each of the four circles. During the contrast discrimination task, Gardner and colleagues could therefore measure the observers’ visual cortex activity elicited by the stimuli. In this way, they could correlate brain activity in the visual cortex with the observers’ attention and their choice of contrasting circles.
Visual cortex responses tended to be largest when the observers were paying attention to a particular target circle, and smallest when they were ignoring a circle. The researchers determined that the largest visual cortex responses to the stimuli guided the eventual choice of each observer, leading to enhanced performance on the visual task.
“We used computational modeling to test various hypotheses about how attention affects brain processing of visual information to improve behavioral performance,” explains Gardner. “We concluded that the observers’ attention causes their brains to select the largest cortical response to guide contrast choice, since we found that an ‘efficient selection’ model best explained the behavioral and fMRI data,” he says.
If the findings extend to other senses, such as hearing, researchers may begin to understand how humans make sense of a perceptually cluttered world.
The corresponding author for this highlight is based at the Gardner Research Unit, RIKEN Brain Science Institute
gro-pr | Research asia research news
The most recent press releases about innovation >>>
Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:
New success for Konstanz physicists in studying the quantum vacuum
An important step towards a completely new experimental access to quantum physics has been made at University of Konstanz. The team of scientists headed by...
HZI researchers decipher infection mechanisms of Yersinia and immune responses of the host
Yersiniae cause severe intestinal infections. Studies using Yersinia pseudotuberculosis as a model organism aim to elucidate the infection mechanisms of these...
Researchers from the University of Hamburg in Germany, in collaboration with colleagues from the University of Aarhus in Denmark, have synthesized a new superconducting material by growing a few layers of an antiferromagnetic transition-metal chalcogenide on a bismuth-based topological insulator, both being non-superconducting materials.
While superconductivity and magnetism are generally believed to be mutually exclusive, surprisingly, in this new material, superconducting correlations...
Laser-driving of semimetals allows creating novel quasiparticle states within condensed matter systems and switching between different states on ultrafast time scales
Studying properties of fundamental particles in condensed matter systems is a promising approach to quantum field theory. Quasiparticles offer the opportunity...
Among the general public, solar thermal energy is currently associated with dark blue, rectangular collectors on building roofs. Technologies are needed for aesthetically high quality architecture which offer the architect more room for manoeuvre when it comes to low- and plus-energy buildings. With the “ArKol” project, researchers at Fraunhofer ISE together with partners are currently developing two façade collectors for solar thermal energy generation, which permit a high degree of design flexibility: a strip collector for opaque façade sections and a solar thermal blind for transparent sections. The current state of the two developments will be presented at the BAU 2017 trade fair.
As part of the “ArKol – development of architecturally highly integrated façade collectors with heat pipes” project, Fraunhofer ISE together with its partners...