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Alpha waves organize to-do list for brain

Date:
May 20, 2014
Source:
Radboud University Nijmegen
Summary:
Alpha waves appear to be even more active and important than neuroscientists already thought. A new theory has been postulated on how the alpha wave controls attention to visual signals. Brain cells 'spark' all the time. From this electronic activity brain waves emerge: oscillations at different band widths. And like a radio station uses different frequencies to carry specific information far away from the emitting source, so does the brain. And just like radio listeners, brain areas tune into the wave length relevant for their functioning.

Different phases of the alpha wave encode for different parts of the visual scene.
Credit: Image courtesy of Radboud University Nijmegen

In his search to understand the role and function of brain waves, neuroscientist Ole Jensen (Radboud University) postulates a new theory on how the alpha wave controls attention to visual signals. His theory is published in Trends in Neurosciences on May 20. Alpha waves appear to be even more active and important than Jensen already thought.

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Our brain cells 'spark' all the time. From this electronic activity brain waves emerge: oscillations at different band widths. And like a radio station uses different frequencies to carry specific information far away from the emitting source, so does the brain. And just like radio listeners with a certain musical preference tune in to the frequency that carries the music they prefer, brain areas tune into the wave length relevant for their functioning.

Alpha waves aren't boring Ole Jensen, professor of Neuronal Oscillations at Radboud University's Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition and Behaviour, tries to figure out how this network of sending and receiving information through oscillations works in detail. Earlier he discovered a novel role of the alpha wave that was long thought to be a boring wave, emerging when the brain runs idle and a person is dozing off. Jensen shifted this interpretation by showing the importance of the alpha frequency: it helps to shut down irrelevant brain area's for a certain task. It helps us concentrate on what is really important at that moment.

To do list In the Trends in Neurosciences paper that appeared today, Jensen postulates a new theory for how this actually works given a visual task. 'We think that different phases of the alpha wave encode for different parts of a visual scene. It helps breaking down the visual information into small jobs and then perform those tasks in a specific order. A to do list for your visual attention system: focus on the face, focus on the hand, focus on the glass, look around. And then all over again.'

Jensen is now planning to test this new interpretation of the alpha wave in both animals and humans.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Radboud University Nijmegen. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Ole Jensen, Bart Gips, Til Ole Bergmann, Mathilde Bonnefond. Temporal coding organized by coupled alpha and gamma oscillations prioritize visual processing. Trends in Neurosciences, 2014; DOI: 10.1016/j.tins.2014.04.001

Cite This Page:

Radboud University Nijmegen. "Alpha waves organize to-do list for brain." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 20 May 2014. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/05/140520093500.htm>.
Radboud University Nijmegen. (2014, May 20). Alpha waves organize to-do list for brain. ScienceDaily. Retrieved January 28, 2015 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/05/140520093500.htm
Radboud University Nijmegen. "Alpha waves organize to-do list for brain." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/05/140520093500.htm (accessed January 28, 2015).

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