Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Dual spotlights in the brain

09.10.2012
How we manage to attend to multiple objects without being distracted by irrelevant information

The “tiki-taka”-style of the Spanish national football team is amazing to watch: Xavi passes to Andrès Iniesta, he just rebounds the ball once and it’s right at Xabi Alonso’s foot. The Spanish midfielders cross the field as if they run on rails, always maintaining attention on the ball and the teammates, the opponents chasing after them without a chance.


The striker has to divide his attention: He has to attend to the goalkeeper, but also to player #3 who might block his shot. By splitting his ‘spotlight of attention’ he stays on top of the situation. To ensure that his information processing capacities are not overtaxed he is able to suppress the irrelevant information next to and between his two attentional foci. This provides him with all the necessary information in optimal quality and without distraction. This process is visualized in the picture through various degrees of blurriness.
Image: Christian Kiel/ Fuchstrick GbR

An international team of scientists from the German Primate Center and McGill University in Canada, including Stefan Treue, head of the Cognitive Neuroscience Laboratory, has now uncovered how the human brain makes such excellence possible by dividing visual attention: The brain is capable of splitting its ‘attentional spotlight’ for an enhanced processing of multiple visual objects. (Neuron, doi: 10.1016/j.neuron.2011.10.013)

When we pay attention to an object, neurons responsible for this location in our field of view are more active then when they process unattended objects. But quite often we want to pay attention to multiple objects in different spatial positions, with interspersed irrelevant objects. Different theories have been proposed to account for this ability. One is, that the attentive focus is split spatially, excluding objects between the attentional spotlights. Another possibility is, that the attentional focus is zoomed out to cover all relevant objects, but including the interspersed irrelevant ones. A third possibility would be a single focus rapidly switching between the attended objects.

Studying rhesus macaques
In order to explain how such a complex ability is achieved, the neuroscientists measured the activity of individual neurons in areas of the brain involved in vision. They studied two rhesus macaques, which were trained in a visual attention task. The monkeys had learned to pay attention to two relevant objects on a screen, with an irrelevant object between them. The experiment showed, that the macaques’ neurons responded strongly to the two attended objects with only a weak response to the irrelevant stimulus in the middle. So the brain is able to spatially split visual attention and ignore the areas in between. “Our results show the enormous adaptiveness of the brain, which enables us to deal effectively with many different situations.

This multi-tasking allows us to simultaneously attend multiple objects”, Stefan Treue says. Such a powerful ability of our attentive system is one precondition for humans to become perfect football-artists but also to safely navigate in everyday traffic.

Original Publication
Robert Niebergall, Paul S. Khayat, Stefan Treue, Julio C. Martinez-Trujillo (2011): Multifocal attention filters out targets from distractors within and beyond primate MT neurons receptive field boundaries. Neuron, Volume 72, Issue 6, 1067-1079, 22 December 2011. doi: 10.1016/j.neuron.2011.10.013
Contact
Prof. Dr. Stefan Treue
Phone: +49 551 3851-117
E-mail: treue@gwdg.de

Susanne Diederich (Press and Communications)
Phone: +49 551 3851-359
E-mail: sdiederich@dpz.eu

The German Primate Center (DPZ) in Göttingen, Germany, conducts basic research on and with primates in the areas of infectious diseases, neurosciences and organismic biology. In addition, it operates four field stations abroad and is a competence and reference center for primate research. The DPZ is one of the 86 research and infrastructure institutions of the Leibnitz Association in Germany (http://www.leibniz-gemeinschaft.de).

Dr. Susanne Diederich | idw
Further information:
http://www.dpz.eu/
http://www.dpz.eu/akn

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Münster University researchers develop new synthesis method for producing fluorinated piperidines
22.01.2019 | Westfälische Wilhelms-Universität Münster

nachricht New blood vessel system discovered in bones
22.01.2019 | Universität Duisburg-Essen

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Energizing the immune system to eat cancer

Abramson Cancer Center study identifies method of priming macrophages to boost anti-tumor response

Immune cells called macrophages are supposed to serve and protect, but cancer has found ways to put them to sleep. Now researchers at the Abramson Cancer...

Im Focus: Ten-year anniversary of the Neumayer Station III

The scientific and political community alike stress the importance of German Antarctic research

Joint Press Release from the BMBF and AWI

The Antarctic is a frigid continent south of the Antarctic Circle, where researchers are the only inhabitants. Despite the hostile conditions, here the Alfred...

Im Focus: Ultra ultrasound to transform new tech

World first experiments on sensor that may revolutionise everything from medical devices to unmanned vehicles

The new sensor - capable of detecting vibrations of living cells - may revolutionise everything from medical devices to unmanned vehicles.

Im Focus: Flying Optical Cats for Quantum Communication

Dead and alive at the same time? Researchers at the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics have implemented Erwin Schrödinger’s paradoxical gedanken experiment employing an entangled atom-light state.

In 1935 Erwin Schrödinger formulated a thought experiment designed to capture the paradoxical nature of quantum physics. The crucial element of this gedanken...

Im Focus: Nanocellulose for novel implants: Ears from the 3D-printer

Cellulose obtained from wood has amazing material properties. Empa researchers are now equipping the biodegradable material with additional functionalities to produce implants for cartilage diseases using 3D printing.

It all starts with an ear. Empa researcher Michael Hausmann removes the object shaped like a human ear from the 3D printer and explains:

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

Our digital society in 2040

16.01.2019 | Event News

11th International Symposium: “Advanced Battery Power – Kraftwerk Batterie” Aachen, 3-4 April 2019

14.01.2019 | Event News

ICTM Conference 2019: Digitization emerges as an engineering trend for turbomachinery construction

12.12.2018 | Event News

 
Latest News

Mechanical engineers develop process to 3D print piezoelectric materials

22.01.2019 | Materials Sciences

Energizing the immune system to eat cancer

22.01.2019 | Health and Medicine

Early Prediction of Alzheimer’s Progression in Blood

22.01.2019 | Health and Medicine

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>