Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Dual spotlights in the brain: How we manage to attend to multiple objects without being distracted by irrelevant information

Date:
October 9, 2012
Source:
German Primate Center
Summary:
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. Researchers have 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.

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.
Credit: Christian Kiel/ Fuchstrick GbR

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.

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.

Results of the research are published in the journal Neuron.

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

n 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.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by German Primate Center. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Robert Niebergall, Paul S. Khayat, Stefan Treue, Julio C. Martinez-Trujillo. Multifocal Attention Filters Targets from Distracters within and beyond Primate MT Neurons' Receptive Field Boundaries. Neuron, 2011; 72 (6): 1067 DOI: 10.1016/j.neuron.2011.10.013

Cite This Page:

German Primate Center. "Dual spotlights in the brain: How we manage to attend to multiple objects without being distracted by irrelevant information." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 9 October 2012. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/10/121009092743.htm>.
German Primate Center. (2012, October 9). Dual spotlights in the brain: How we manage to attend to multiple objects without being distracted by irrelevant information. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 25, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/10/121009092743.htm
German Primate Center. "Dual spotlights in the brain: How we manage to attend to multiple objects without being distracted by irrelevant information." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/10/121009092743.htm (accessed July 25, 2014).

Share This




More Mind & Brain News

Friday, July 25, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Beatings and Addiction: Pakistan Drug 'clinic' Tortures Patients

Beatings and Addiction: Pakistan Drug 'clinic' Tortures Patients

AFP (July 24, 2014) — A so-called drugs rehab 'clinic' is closed down in Pakistan after police find scores of ‘patients’ chained up alleging serial abuse. Duration 03:05 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
New Painkiller Designed To Discourage Abuse: Will It Work?

New Painkiller Designed To Discourage Abuse: Will It Work?

Newsy (July 24, 2014) — The FDA approved Targiniq ER on Wednesday, a painkiller designed to keep users from abusing it. Like any new medication, however, it has doubters. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Can Watching TV Make You Feel Like A Failure?

Can Watching TV Make You Feel Like A Failure?

Newsy (July 24, 2014) — A study by German researchers claims watching TV while you're stressed out can make you feel guilty and like a failure. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
China's Ageing Millions Look Forward to Bleak Future

China's Ageing Millions Look Forward to Bleak Future

AFP (July 24, 2014) — China's elderly population is expanding so quickly that children struggle to look after them, pushing them to do something unexpected in Chinese society- move their parents into a nursing home. Duration: 02:07 Video provided by AFP
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:
from the past week

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