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:
The Potsdam Echelle Polarimetric and Spectroscopic Instrument (PEPSI) at the Large Binocular Telescope (LBT) in Arizona released its first image of the surface magnetic field of another star. In a paper in the European journal Astronomy & Astrophysics, the PEPSI team presents a Zeeman- Doppler-Image of the surface of the magnetically active star II Pegasi.
A special technique allows astronomers to resolve the surfaces of faraway stars. Those are otherwise only seen as point sources, even in the largest telescopes...
Researchers at Chalmers University of Technology and the University of Gothenburg, Sweden, have proposed a way to create a completely new source of radiation. Ultra-intense light pulses consist of the motion of a single wave and can be described as a tsunami of light. The strong wave can be used to study interactions between matter and light in a unique way. Their research is now published in the scientific journal Physical Review Letters.
"This source of radiation lets us look at reality through a new angle - it is like twisting a mirror and discovering something completely different," says...
New research group at the University of Jena combines theory and experiment to demonstrate for the first time certain physical processes in a quantum vacuum
For most people, a vacuum is an empty space. Quantum physics, on the other hand, assumes that even in this lowest-energy state, particles and antiparticles...
Physicists in the EPic Lab at University of Sussex make crucial development in global race to develop a portable atomic clock
Scientists in the Emergent Photonics Lab (EPic Lab) at the University of Sussex have made a breakthrough to a crucial element of an atomic clock - devices...
A new way to sense earthquakes could help improve early warning systems
Every year earthquakes worldwide claim hundreds or even thousands of lives. Forewarning allows people to head for safety and a matter of seconds could spell...