Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Do not disturb! How the brain filters out distractions

Date:
July 3, 2014
Source:
Universitaet Tübingen
Summary:
You know the feeling? You are trying to dial a phone number from memory ... you have to concentrate ... then someone starts shouting out other numbers nearby. In a situation like that, your brain must ignore the distraction as best it can so as not to lose vital information from its working memory.Scientists can now give us some insight into just how the brain manages this problem.

Nerve cells in two brain areas important to working memory use different strategies to filter out distractions.
Credit: LS Tierphysiologie

You know the feeling? You are trying to dial a phone number from memory… you have to concentrate…. then someone starts shouting out other numbers nearby. In a situation like that, your brain must ignore the distraction as best it can so as not to lose vital information from its working memory. A new paper published in Neuron by a team of neurobiologists led by Professor Andreas Nieder at the University of Tübingen gives insight into just how the brain manages this problem.

The researchers put rhesus monkey in a similar situation. The monkeys had to remember the number of dots in an image and reproduce the knowledge a moment later. While they were taking in the information, a distraction was introduced, showing a different number of dots. And even though the monkeys were mostly able to ignore the distraction, their concentration was disturbed and their memory performance suffered.

Measurements of the electrical activity of nerve cells in two key areas of the brain showed a surprising result: nerve cells in the prefrontal cortex signaled the distraction while it was being presented, but immediately restored the remembered information (the number of dots) once the distraction was switched off. In contrast, nerve cells in the parietal cortex were unimpressed by the distraction and reliably transmitted the information about the correct number of dots.

These findings provide important clues about the strategies and division of labor among different parts of the brain when it comes to using the working memory. "Different parts of the brain appear to use different strategies to filter out distractions," says Dr. Simon Jacob, who carried out research in Tübingen before switching to the Psychiatric Clinic at the Charité hospitals in Berlin. "Nerve cells in the parietal cortex simply suppress the distraction, while nerve cells in the prefrontal cortex allow themselves to be momentarily distracted -- only to return immediately to the truly important memory content."

The researchers were surprised by the two brain areas' difference in sensitivity to distraction. "We had assumed that the prefrontal cortex is able to filter out all kinds of distractions, while the parietal cortex was considered more vulnerable to disturbances," says Professor Nieder. "We will have to rethink that. The memory-storage tasks and the strategies of each brain area are distributed differently from what we expected."


Story Source:

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


Journal Reference:

  1. Simon Nikolas Jacob, Andreas Nieder. Complementary Roles for Primate Frontal and Parietal Cortex in Guarding Working Memory from Distractor Stimuli. Neuron, 2014; 83 (1): 226 DOI: 10.1016/j.neuron.2014.05.009

Cite This Page:

Universitaet Tübingen. "Do not disturb! How the brain filters out distractions." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 3 July 2014. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/07/140703102603.htm>.
Universitaet Tübingen. (2014, July 3). Do not disturb! How the brain filters out distractions. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 20, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/07/140703102603.htm
Universitaet Tübingen. "Do not disturb! How the brain filters out distractions." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/07/140703102603.htm (accessed October 20, 2014).

Share This



More Mind & Brain News

Monday, October 20, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Your Birth Season Might Determine Your Temperament

Your Birth Season Might Determine Your Temperament

Newsy (Oct. 20, 2014) — A new study says the season you're born in can determine your temperament — and one season has a surprising outcome. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Court Ruling Means Kids' Online Activity Could Be On Parents

Court Ruling Means Kids' Online Activity Could Be On Parents

Newsy (Oct. 17, 2014) — In a ruling attorneys for both sides agreed was a first of its kind, a Georgia appeals court said parents can be held liable for what kids put online. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
The Best Foods To Boost Your Mood

The Best Foods To Boost Your Mood

Buzz60 (Oct. 17, 2014) — Feeling down? Reach for the refrigerator, not the medicine cabinet! TC Newman (@PurpleTCNewman) shares some of the best foods to boost your mood. Video provided by Buzz60
Powered by NewsLook.com
You Can Get Addicted To Google Glass, Apparently

You Can Get Addicted To Google Glass, Apparently

Newsy (Oct. 15, 2014) — Researchers claim they’ve diagnosed the first example of the disorder in a 31-year-old U.S. Navy serviceman. 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