Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

The Mind's Eye Scans Like A Spotlight: New Role Discovered For Brain Waves

Date:
August 18, 2009
Source:
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Summary:
Researchers say you are more likely to scan the room, jumping from face to face as you search for your friend. In addition, the timing of these jumps appears to be determined by waves of activity in the brain that act as a clock.

Picower Institute postdoctoral associate Timothy J. Buschman, left, and Picower Professor of Neuroscience Earl Miller
Credit: Photo by Donna Coveney

You're meeting a friend in a crowded cafeteria. Do your eyes scan the room like a roving spotlight, moving from face to face, or do you take in the whole scene, hoping that your friend's face will pop out at you? And what, for that matter, determines how fast you can scan the room?

Researchers at MIT's Picower Institute for Learning and Memory say you are more likely to scan the room, jumping from face to face as you search for your friend. In addition, the timing of these jumps appears to be determined by waves of activity in the brain that act as a clock. The study, which appears in the Aug. 13 issue of the journal Neuron, sheds new light on a long-standing debate among neuroscientists over how the visual system picks out an object of interest in a complex scene.

In the study, monkeys were given the task of searching for one particular tilted, colored bar among a field of bars on a computer screen. By monitoring the activity of neurons in three of the animals' brain regions, researchers found that the monkeys spontaneously shifted their attention in a sequence, like a moving spotlight that jumped from location to location.

What's more, the study showed that brain waves act as a kind of built-in clock that provides a framework for shifting attention from one location to the next. The work could have implications for understanding or treating attention deficit disorder or even potentially speeding up the rate of cognition in the brain.

"For many years, neuroscientists have been debating competing theories on whether humans and animals spontaneously search elements of a visual scene in a serial or parallel manner," said lead author Earl K. Miller, the Picower Professor of Neuroscience. "Ours is the first study based on direct evidence of neurophysiological activity."

Like clockwork

Activity in the brain comes and goes in waves, cycling between high and low activity states. Researchers have been recording brain waves for more than 100 years and although they think they play roles in working memory, decision-making and communication among brain regions, no one is sure of their exact role in brain function. This work suggests a new role for brain waves — one in which they are directly involved in the brain's processing.

Picower Institute postdoctoral associate and co-author Timothy J. Buschman found that the spotlight of the mind's eye shifted focus at 25 times a second and that this process of switching was regulated by brain waves. "This is one of the first examples of how brain waves play a specific role in cognitive computations," Buschman said.

"Attention regulates the flood of sensory information pouring into the brain into a manageable stream. In particular, a lot of different areas of the brain are involved in vision. If they all competed at once, it would be chaos," Miller said. "Brain waves may provide the clock that tells the brain when to shift its attention from one stimulus to another. Oscillating brain waves may provide a way for several regions across the brain to be on the same page at the same time — very similar to the way computers use an internal clock to synchronize the many different components inside."

The researchers' next step is to expand their search for brain wave function beyond the visual. They hope to discover whether brain waves are specific to visual function or act as a "general clock" for the brain.

The researchers have found that in the experiment with the monkeys, the speed at which the animals searched was related to the speed of their brain waves. When the clock ticked faster, the animals "thought" faster. This implies that it may be possible to change the speed of cognition if researchers can learn to artificially manipulate brain waves. In separate studies outside MIT, researchers are looking at the correlation between the brain waves' "clock speed" in humans and the speed at which subjects shift attention from one task to another.

This work is supported by the National Science Foundation and the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Timothy J. Buschman, Earl K. Miller. Serial, Covert Shifts of Attention during Visual Search Are Reflected by the Frontal Eye Fields and Correlated with Population Oscillations. Neuron, 2009; DOI: 10.1016/j.neuron.2009.06.020

Cite This Page:

Massachusetts Institute of Technology. "The Mind's Eye Scans Like A Spotlight: New Role Discovered For Brain Waves." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 18 August 2009. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/08/090812143928.htm>.
Massachusetts Institute of Technology. (2009, August 18). The Mind's Eye Scans Like A Spotlight: New Role Discovered For Brain Waves. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 1, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/08/090812143928.htm
Massachusetts Institute of Technology. "The Mind's Eye Scans Like A Spotlight: New Role Discovered For Brain Waves." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/08/090812143928.htm (accessed October 1, 2014).

Share This



More Mind & Brain News

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

App Teaches Kindergarteners to Code

App Teaches Kindergarteners to Code

AP (Oct. 1, 2014) They can't all read yet, but soon kindergarteners may be able to create basic computer code. Researchers in Massachusetts developed an app that teaches young kids a simple computer programming language. (Oct. 1) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Do Video Games Trump Brain Training For Cognitive Boosts?

Do Video Games Trump Brain Training For Cognitive Boosts?

Newsy (Sep. 29, 2014) More and more studies are showing positive benefits to playing video games, but the jury is still out on brain training programs. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Your Spouse's Personality May Influence Your Earnings

Your Spouse's Personality May Influence Your Earnings

Newsy (Sep. 26, 2014) Research from Washington University suggest people with conscientious spouses have greater career success. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Can A Blood Test Predict Psychosis Risk?

Can A Blood Test Predict Psychosis Risk?

Newsy (Sep. 26, 2014) Researchers say certain markers in the blood can predict risk of psychosis later in the life. The test can aid in early treatment for the condition. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Health & Medicine

Mind & Brain

Living & Well

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins