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by Douglas Heaven What is nine plus six, plus eight? You may not realise it, but you already know the answer. It seems that we unconsciously perform more complicated feats of reasoning than previously thought – including reading and basic mathematics. The discovery raises questions about the necessity of consciousness for abstract thought, and supports the idea that maths might not be an exclusively human trait. Previous studies have shown that we can subliminally process single words and numbers. To identify whether we can unconsciously perform more complicated processing, Ran Hassin at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel, and his colleagues used a technique called continuous flash suppression. The technique works by presenting a volunteer's left eye with a stimulus – a mathematical sum, say – for a short period of time, while bombarding the right eye with rapidly changing colourful shapes. The volunteer's awareness is dominated by what the right eye sees, so they remain unconscious of what is presented to the left eye. In the team's first experiment, a three-part calculation was flashed to the left eye. This was immediately followed by one number being presented to both eyes, which the volunteer had to say as fast as possible. When the number was the same as the answer to the sum, people were quicker to announce it, suggesting that they had subconsciously worked out the answer, and primed themselves with that number. © Copyright Reed Business Information Ltd.

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 18: Attention and Higher Cognition
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 14: Attention and Consciousness
Link ID: 17493 - Posted: 11.14.2012

One cannot travel far in spiritual circles without meeting people who are fascinated by the “near-death experience” (NDE). The phenomenon has been described as follows: Frequently recurring features include feelings of peace and joy; a sense of being out of one’s body and watching events going on around one’s body and, occasionally, at some distant physical location; a cessation of pain; seeing a dark tunnel or void; seeing an unusually bright light, sometimes experienced as a “Being of Light” that radiates love and may speak or otherwise communicate with the person; encountering other beings, often deceased persons whom the experiencer recognizes; experiencing a revival of memories or even a full life review, sometimes accompanied by feelings of judgment; seeing some “other realm,” often of great beauty; sensing a barrier or border beyond which the person cannot go; and returning to the body, often reluctantly. Such accounts have led many people to believe that consciousness must be independent of the brain. Unfortunately, these experiences vary across cultures, and no single feature is common to them all. One would think that if a nonphysical domain were truly being explored, some universal characteristics would stand out. Hindus and Christians would not substantially disagree—and one certainly wouldn’t expect the after-death state of South Indians to diverge from that of North Indians, as has been reported.⁠ It should also trouble NDE enthusiasts that only 10−20 percent of people who approach clinical death recall having any experience at all.⁠ Copyright 2012 Sam Harris

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 18: Attention and Higher Cognition
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 14: Attention and Consciousness
Link ID: 17490 - Posted: 11.14.2012

By Fergus Walsh Medical correspondent A Canadian man who was believed to have been in a vegetative state for more than a decade, has been able to tell scientists that he is not in any pain. It's the first time an uncommunicative, severely brain-injured patient has been able to give answers clinically relevant to their care. Scott Routley, 39, was asked questions while having his brain activity scanned in an fMRI machine. His doctor says the discovery means medical textbooks will need rewriting. Vegetative patients emerge from a coma into a condition where they have periods awake, with their eyes open, but have no perception of themselves or the outside world. Mr Routley suffered a severe brain injury in a car accident 12 years ago. None of his physical assessments since then have shown any sign of awareness, or ability to communicate. But the British neuroscientist Prof Adrian Owen - who led the team at the Brain and Mind Institute, University of Western Ontario - said Mr Routley was clearly not vegetative. BBC © 2012

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 18: Attention and Higher Cognition
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 14: Attention and Consciousness
Link ID: 17487 - Posted: 11.13.2012

By SETH S. HOROWITZ HERE’S a trick question. What do you hear right now? If your home is like mine, you hear the humming sound of a printer, the low throbbing of traffic from the nearby highway and the clatter of plastic followed by the muffled impact of paws landing on linoleum — meaning that the cat has once again tried to open the catnip container atop the fridge and succeeded only in knocking it to the kitchen floor. The slight trick in the question is that, by asking you what you were hearing, I prompted your brain to take control of the sensory experience — and made you listen rather than just hear. That, in effect, is what happens when an event jumps out of the background enough to be perceived consciously rather than just being part of your auditory surroundings. The difference between the sense of hearing and the skill of listening is attention. Hearing is a vastly underrated sense. We tend to think of the world as a place that we see, interacting with things and people based on how they look. Studies have shown that conscious thought takes place at about the same rate as visual recognition, requiring a significant fraction of a second per event. But hearing is a quantitatively faster sense. While it might take you a full second to notice something out of the corner of your eye, turn your head toward it, recognize it and respond to it, the same reaction to a new or sudden sound happens at least 10 times as fast. This is because hearing has evolved as our alarm system — it operates out of line of sight and works even while you are asleep. And because there is no place in the universe that is totally silent, your auditory system has evolved a complex and automatic “volume control,” fine-tuned by development and experience, to keep most sounds off your cognitive radar unless they might be of use as a signal that something dangerous or wonderful is somewhere within the kilometer or so that your ears can detect. © 2012 The New York Times Company

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 9: Hearing, Vestibular Perception, Taste, and Smell; Chapter 18: Attention and Higher Cognition
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 6: Hearing, Balance, Taste, and Smell; Chapter 14: Attention and Consciousness
Link ID: 17474 - Posted: 11.11.2012

by Elizabeth Norton The ability to recognize faces is so important in humans that the brain appears to have an area solely devoted to the task: the fusiform gyrus. Brain imaging studies consistently find that this region of the temporal lobe becomes active when people look at faces. Skeptics have countered, however, that these studies show only a correlation, but not proof, that activity in this area is essential for face recognition. Now, thanks to the willingness of an intrepid patient, a new study provides the first cause-and-effect evidence that neurons in this area help humans recognize faces—and only faces, not other body parts or objects. An unusual collaboration between researchers and an epilepsy patient led to the discovery. Ron Blackwell, an engineer in Santa Clara, California, came to Stanford University in Palo Alto, California, in 2011 seeking better treatment for his epilepsy. He had suffered seizures since he was a teenager, and at age 47, his medication was becoming less effective. Stanford neurologist Josef Parvizi suggested some tests to locate the source of the seizures—and also suggested that it might be possible to eliminate the seizures by surgically destroying a tiny area of brain tissue where they occurred. Parvizi used electrodes placed on Blackwell's scalp to trace the seizures to the temporal lobe, about an inch above Blackwell's right ear. Then, surgeons placed more electrodes on the surface of Blackwell's brain, near the suspect point of origin in the temporal lobe. Parvizi stimulated each electrode in turn with a mild current, trying to trigger Blackwell's seizure symptoms under safe conditions. "If we get those symptoms, we know that we are tickling the seizure node," he explains. © 2010 American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 18: Attention and Higher Cognition
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 14: Attention and Consciousness
Link ID: 17414 - Posted: 10.24.2012

By Maria Konnikova I don’t remember if I had any problems paying attention to Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park when I first read it. I doubt it, though. I devoured all of my Austen in one big gulp, book after book, line after line, sometime around the eighth grade. My mom had given a huge, bright blue hardcover, with text as small as the book was weighty, that contained the Jane Austen oeuvre from start to finish. And from start to finish I went. I’ve since revisited most of the novels—there’s only so much you retain, absorb, and process on a thirteen-year-old’s reading binge—but Mansfield Park hasn’t fared quite as well as some of the others. I’m not sure why. I’ve just never gone back. Until a few weeks ago, that is, when I saw that this somewhat neglected (and often frowned upon) novel had been made the center of an intriguing new study of reading and attention. “This is your brain on Jane Austen,” rang the headline. Oh, no, not another one, went my head. It seems like every day, we get another “your brain on…” announcement, and at this point, an allergic reaction seems in order. This one, however, proved to be different. It’s not about your brain on Jane Austen. Not really. It’s about a far more interesting question: can our brains pay close attention in different ways? The neural correlates of attention are a hot research topic—and with good reason. After all, with the explosion of new media streams, new ways of digesting material, new ways of interacting with the world, it would make sense for us to be curious about how it all affects us at the most basic level of the brain. Usually, though, the research deals with the differences between paying attention, like really paying attention, and not paying attention all that much, be it because of increased cognitive load or other forms of multitasking or divided attention. © 2012 Scientific American

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 18: Attention and Higher Cognition
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 14: Attention and Consciousness
Link ID: 17409 - Posted: 10.23.2012

By John McCarthy Humans can focus on one thing amidst many. “Searchlight of attention” is the metaphor. You recall a childhood friend’s face one moment, then perhaps the dog you loved back then, and then…what you will. Your son’s face on stage rivets your attention; the rest of the cast is unseen. No “ghost” in the brain aims that searchlight. What does? Neurons do, somehow, but how is a mystery that new research actually deepened. The experiment used monkeys. They can focus attention like people do. They can zero in on a red square on a screen full of distractions, for instance. When the square moves, a trained monkey will press a button. Electrodes inserted in a monkey neuron will reveal “firing” (minuscule electrical ripples) simultaneous with attention. This may locate brain areas by which the monkey watched that red square. It’s not only the explosive firing in neurons that instruments detect. They also spot the milder priming to fire, when the monkey expects (from training) that neurons are about to be stimulated. Neurons in a one area of the cortex fire when an object moves (but not, for instance, if it gets brighter but stays still.) If a monkey learns that an onscreen cue (a blip of light) signals that the red square is about to move, the cue alone primes the motion-sensing neurons. They also synchronize more tightly (i.e. reduce random noise among them.) Cues cock neurons, like a gun. It’s like Pavlov’s dogs salivating at the bell that preceded feeding. © 2012 Scientific American

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 18: Attention and Higher Cognition
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 14: Attention and Consciousness
Link ID: 17361 - Posted: 10.11.2012

By DAVID P. BARASH ZOMBIE bees? That’s right: zombie bees. First reported in California in 2008, these stranger-than-fiction creatures have spread to North Dakota and, just recently, to my home in Washington State. Of course, they’re not really zombies, although they act disquietingly like them, showing abnormal behavior like flying at night (almost unheard-of in healthy bees), moving erratically and then dying. These “zombees” are victims of a parasitic fly, Apocephalus borealis. The fly lays eggs within honeybees, inducing their hosts to make a nocturnal “flight of the living dead,” after which the larval flies emerge, having consumed the bee from the inside out. These events, although bizarre, aren’t all that unusual in the animal world. Many fly and wasp species lay their eggs inside hosts. What is especially interesting, and a bit more unusual, is the way an internal parasite not only feeds on its host, but also frequently alters its behavior, in a way that favors the continued survival and reproduction of the parasite. Not all internal parasites kill their hosts, of course: pretty much every multicellular animal is home to numerous fellow travelers, each of which has its own agenda, which in some cases involves influencing, or taking control of, part or all of the body in which they temporarily reside. And this, in turn, leads to the question: who’s in charge of your own mind? Think of the morgue scene in the movie “Men in Black,” when a human corpse is revealed to be a robot, its skull inhabited by a little green man from outer space. Science fiction, but less bizarre than you might expect, or want to believe. © 2012 The New York Times Company

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 18: Attention and Higher Cognition
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 14: Attention and Consciousness
Link ID: 17340 - Posted: 10.08.2012

By Sarah Estes and Jesse Graham It might be time to pencil in "awe cultivation" on your to-do list. Although religious thinkers like Søren Kierkegaard cast awe as a state of existential fear and trembling, new research by psychologists at Stanford and the University of Minnesota shows that experiencing awe can actually increase well-being, by giving people the sense that they have more time available. That sounds much more enjoyable than trying to power through one more hour on Redbull and fumes. Just what is this elusive emotion, and how can one nurture it in our time-pressed world? Although awe has played a significant role in the histories of religion, art, and other transcendental pursuits, it has received scant attention from emotion researchers. Noting the paucity of data, social psychologists Dacher Keltner and Jonathan Haidt developed a working prototype in a 2003 paper, delineating awe's standing in the research taxonomy. After reviewing accounts of psychological, sociological, religious, artistic, and even primordial awe (awe toward power), the researchers surmised that awe universally involved the perception of vastness and the need to accommodate the experience into one's present worldview. That is, awe is triggered by some experience so expansive (in either a positive or negative way) that one’s mental schemas have to be adjusted in order to process it. Nearly ten years later, awe research is beginning to come into its own. The self-help market has continued to grow quickly, and research on positive emotions has kept apace. Even corporations and politicians have taken note of some of the ways that emotion research links into everything from productivity to voting and buying behavior. So it should come as no surprise that psychologists are now experimenting in domains formerly left to clergy, clinicians, and artists. © 2012 Scientific American,

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 18: Attention and Higher Cognition
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 14: Attention and Consciousness
Link ID: 17301 - Posted: 09.26.2012

By Susan Milius Let’s take a minute to turn faces upside down. Pick any face. Ignore beards, glasses, hairdos or lack of any hair to do, and upend the facial features of Charles Darwin, Ray Charles or anyone named Charlotte who reads Science News. People who normally remember or match a face perfectly well have trouble when it is standing on its head. But before there’s a chorus of “well, obviously,” let’s try turning dogs upside down, too. Most people who don’t breed dogs or judge shows don’t recognize an individual dog nearly as well as a person’s face to begin with. And when pictures of poodles and Irish setters flip upside down in quizzes of learning and memory, people struggle a bit more than they do with the natural versions. But scores drop only modestly with these flipped-dog pics, compared with the dramatic drop for facial flips. The disproportionate decline in remembering inverted faces has shown up in a variety of recall tests, with comparison groups from dogs to bridges, airplanes, stick figures, even clothing from 17th and 18th century paintings. Upside-down faces are where quiz scores really slump, and researchers view that slump as one of the signs that test-takers are actually experts at face perception. A dog is a dog in any orientation. Same for other organisms and objects. But right-side-up faces apparently are so compelling that people have become especially masterful at recognizing the human visage. Know-it-at-a-glance holistic techniques behind this mastery fail when the world turns upside down. access © Society for Science & the Public 2000 - 2012

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 18: Attention and Higher Cognition; Chapter 19: Language and Hemispheric Asymmetry
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 14: Attention and Consciousness; Chapter 15: Language and Our Divided Brain
Link ID: 17291 - Posted: 09.22.2012

by Douglas Heaven Ever wish you could make better choices? That could one day be possible thanks to an electronic brain implant that can enhance short-term memory and decision-making in primates. The implant can also restore these functions in an animal model of Alzheimer's disease and other types of brain damage, paving the way for the development of new treatments for people with these conditions. Sam Deadwyler at Wake Forest University School of Medicine in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, and colleagues have previously shown that a neural implant can restore some motor and sensory functions in rats. Now they have used a similar implant to stimulate higher-level thinking in monkeys. During normal brain function, neurons "fire" when they receive an input from another neuron via the connection between them, called a synapse. The spatial and temporal pattern of this activity  – where and when the neurons fire   – can be detected and recorded. To find out if it is possible to hijack and then retune these patterns of activity, Deadwyler's team first trained five rhesus macaques to perform a task that tests their attention, short-term memory and decision-making skills. First, the monkeys were shown a random image from a pool of 5000. The image was then blanked out for an interval of 1 to 90 seconds, before reappearing in a different position, alongside up to seven other images. If the monkey selected the original image once it reappeared it was rewarded with juice. © Copyright Reed Business Information Ltd.

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 18: Attention and Higher Cognition; Chapter 17: Learning and Memory
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 14: Attention and Consciousness; Chapter 13: Memory, Learning, and Development
Link ID: 17283 - Posted: 09.22.2012

by Alex Stone In magic, choices are rarely what they seem. Magicians know how to manipulate us into a false sense of free will while really holding the puppet strings. Here’s a simple but clever example of a false choice used in magic. Imagine, if you will, the face of an analog clock and think of any hour on the dial (one, two, three….all the way to twelve.) You have a totally free choice. You can even change your mind if you like. Now we’re going to inject some randomness into your decision. Imagine that your finger is the hour hand and, starting at midnight, spell out the hour you chose, moving your finger clockwise by one step for each letter. (For instance, if you thought of seven, you’d spell out s-e-v-e-n, moving the time forward a total of five hours.). After you’ve done that, your finger will be on a new number. Starting there, spell this number, following the same procedure as before, moving your finger around the dial until you land on yet another number. Repeat the procedure one last time, starting where you left off. Remember the hour on which your finger finally lands. This is your selection. You arrived at this number randomly after making a free choice, so I think it’s fair to say that it would be impossible for me to know where your finger ended up. And yet I’m getting an impression right now. In my third eye, a vision of an old mahogany grandfather clock with a swinging pendulum and hand-painted Roman numerals on the dial. The image is ghostly and pale. I can barely make out the face. The hour-hand reads: One o’clock. This elementary ruse is known as a force. (Try starting with another number and you’ll see why it’s a force.) A force is a way to control a spectator’s selection, be it of a card, number, word, letter—just about anything—and it’s one of the most powerful weapons in magic. There are hundreds of methods. (See for instance, 202 Methods of Forcing, by the great mentalist Ted Annemann.) Forcing gets way more sophisticated, but the basic idea is always the same. © 2012, Kalmbach Publishing Co.

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 18: Attention and Higher Cognition
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 14: Attention and Consciousness
Link ID: 17251 - Posted: 09.13.2012

By Scicurious Scientists like to study choice behavior. It’s an important area of study for lots of different applications, including things like, say, marketing, but also things including mate choice, nutrition, drug addiction, and well…your life is FULL of choices. When you’re at the store facing that huge freaking WALL full of different kinds of cereal? When you decide to hit snooze on your alarm? When you decide to see the dessert menu after dinner? All of these are different kinds of choices, and our brain has different ways of calculating the cost and benefits of each one (or, in the case of mine, going into complete shut down at the sight of that gigantic cereal aisle. I hate that thing). But when scientists study choice and decision making, they often study it in something of a vacuum. Not a literal vacuum, but in an environment with very few variables. You have a rat with a choice of levers or in a maze with a choice of directions. You have a human in a scanner making a choice of two different objects or how much to wager. This is really great for studying how different kinds of decisions are made, but as we get to know more about choice, we have to begin adding more variables. And with choice in real life comes something else: competition. A lot of the most important decisions are made in the presence of competition, like decisions for resources. Find a good patch of berries? Someone was probably there before you. Come across a lovely lady or boy vole you’d like to woo? There’s probably another suitor knocking at the door. So the question now becomes, how does the brain deal with decision making in the presence of competition? © 2012 Scientific American

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 15: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress; Chapter 18: Attention and Higher Cognition
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 11: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress; Chapter 14: Attention and Consciousness
Link ID: 17247 - Posted: 09.11.2012

Analysis by Sheila Eldred Behavioral control and decision-making take part in different regions of the brain's frontal lobe, new research shows The study effectively created a map of the frontal lobes, making it possible for patients with brain injuries to get an accurate prognosis early in treatment. "That knowledge will be tremendously useful for prognosis after brain injury," Ralph Adolphs, Bren Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience at Caltech and a coauthor of the study published in this week's issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), said in a press release. "Many people suffer injury to their frontal lobes -- for instance, after a head injury during an automobile accident -- but the precise pattern of the damage will determine their eventual impairment," he added. When you're making a decision, several different parts of the brain might be activated. How a person functions after a brain injury depends on precisely where a brain injury occurs. Other parts of the brain might compensate, allowing the person to function typically, or the person might be left with a lifelong hardship in making decisions. "We can use our lesion maps and compare the location of damaged brain areas in new patients," Jan Glascher, lead author of the study and a visiting associate in psychology at Caltech, said in an email interview. "This way we can predict what impairments these new patients will likely have. This can facilitate medical diagnoses and spark ideas for treatment strategies." © 2012 Discovery Communications, LLC.

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 18: Attention and Higher Cognition; Chapter 19: Language and Hemispheric Asymmetry
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 14: Attention and Consciousness; Chapter 15: Language and Our Divided Brain
Link ID: 17192 - Posted: 08.22.2012

By Laura Sanders When one monkey sees another monkey messing up, the event ignites a small cluster of nerve cells in the brain that are sensitively tuned to others’ failures. The results help explain why the members of another primate species are such exquisite connoisseurs of blame. “We humans are very sensitive to others’ mistakes,” says Masaki Isoda of the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology in Japan. He and his colleagues describe the macaques’ blunder detectors online August 5 in Nature Neuroscience. Catching other people’s slipups isn’t just schadenfreude. Noting another’s lapse, be it a gymnast’s step out of bounds or another animal’s regurgitation of a poisonous berry, is a good way to learn about the world. “Everybody’s life is a bit of a trial-and-error game,” says neuroscientist Matthew Shane of the Mind Research Network in Albuquerque who was not involved in the new study. An ability to sense others’ errors helps to see what doesn’t work without suffering the consequences firsthand. Past studies have suggested that nerve cells in a brain region called the medial frontal cortex are general error catchers: The cells were thought to fire when a person makes a mistake and also when witnessing someone else err. But by listening in on single nerve cells in macaques, Isoda and his team found that some of these neurons don’t seem to care about a personal mistake. Instead, these neurons are exclusively trained on other animals’ errors. © Society for Science & the Public 2000 - 2012

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 18: Attention and Higher Cognition
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 14: Attention and Consciousness
Link ID: 17130 - Posted: 08.07.2012

Published by scicurious under Behavioral Neuro Imagine for a minute. You're in a coffeeshop, or a bar, or at a swanky cocktail party (whichever you prefer). There are people around, chatting nearby. But you're speaking to the person directly across from you. Somehow, you can pick their voice out of the chatter and attend to what they are saying, even though the conversations around you might be just as loud or louder (especially in a bar!) than the one you're interested in. Have you ever wondered how you do that? I know I have. It's kind of a mind-boggling problem (and is, in fact, called the Cocktail party problem), trying to separate out speech, and make sense of it, in comparison to all the noise. And it's not just something to think about for us humans. Voice recognition technology and recording wrestles with this all the time: how to pick out the voice from the crowd? As it turns out, it's all about attention, and how that attention can change your brain. The authors of this study were interested in what happens in the brain when someone tries to pick out a single speaker in a room full of people. To look at this, they actually used electrodes implanted subdurally (beneath the tough dura mater on the outside of the brain) in three human patients. Three is a really small number, but they had to use patients who were receiving this electrode implant clinically, in this case for treatment of epilepsy, and who were known to have normal hearing and language skills. Copyright © 2012

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 18: Attention and Higher Cognition; Chapter 9: Hearing, Vestibular Perception, Taste, and Smell
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 14: Attention and Consciousness; Chapter 6: Hearing, Balance, Taste, and Smell
Link ID: 17116 - Posted: 08.04.2012

By Ferris Jabr Between October and June they shuffle out of auditoriums, gymnasiums and classrooms, their eyes adjusting to the sunlight as their fingers fumble to awaken cell phones that have been silent for four consecutive hours. Some raise a hand to their foreheads, as though trying to rub away a headache. Others linger in front of the parking lot, unsure of what to do next. They are absolutely exhausted, but not because of any strenuous physical activity. Rather, these high school students have just taken the SAT. "I was fast asleep as soon as I got home," Ikra Ahmad told The Local, a New York Times blog, when she was interviewed for a story on "SAT hangover." Temporary mental exhaustion is a genuine and common phenomenon, which, it is important to note, differs from chronic mental fatigue associated with regular sleep deprivation and some medical disorders. Everyday mental weariness makes sense, intuitively. Surely complex thought and intense concentration require more energy than routine mental processes. Just as vigorous exercise tires our bodies, intellectual exertion should drain the brain. What the latest science reveals, however, is that the popular notion of mental exhaustion is too simplistic. The brain continuously slurps up huge amounts of energy for an organ of its size, regardless of whether we are tackling integral calculus or clicking through the week's top 10 LOLcats. Although firing neurons summon extra blood, oxygen and glucose, any local increases in energy consumption are tiny compared with the brain's gluttonous baseline intake. So, in most cases, short periods of additional mental effort require a little more brainpower than usual, but not much more. Most laboratory experiments, however, have not subjected volunteers to several hours' worth of challenging mental acrobatics. And something must explain the feeling of mental exhaustion, even if its physiology differs from physical fatigue. Simply believing that our brains have expended a lot of effort might be enough to make us lethargic. © 2012 Scientific American,

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 18: Attention and Higher Cognition; Chapter 13: Homeostasis: Active Regulation of the Internal Environment
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 14: Attention and Consciousness; Chapter 9: Homeostasis: Active Regulation of the Internal Environment
Link ID: 17069 - Posted: 07.19.2012

By Bruce Bower Even 6-month-old babies can rapidly estimate approximate numbers of items without counting. But surprisingly, an apparently inborn sense for numbers doesn’t top out until around age 30. Number sense precision gradually declines after that, generally falling to preteen levels by about age 70, say psychologist Justin Halberda of Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore and his colleagues. They report the findings, based on Internet testing of more than 10,000 volunteers ages 11 to 85, online the week of June 25 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. “I expected to see some improvement in number sense into preschool or maybe early elementary school, but not up to age 30,” Halberda says. Evidence of critical mental abilities peaking after young adulthood is rare but has been reported for face memory (SN: 1/1/11, p. 16). Participants in the new study completed a game that tested the precision of their number sense, or how accurately they could assess quantities. Volunteers saw a series of images showing mixes of blue and yellow dots and judged which color dot was more numerous. Each dot array appeared for a fraction of a second. In some dot arrays, one color greatly outnumbered the other. In other arrays, one color slightly outnumbered the other. Test-takers of the same age showed large differences in how accurately they could assess the dots, with the highest average scores coming around age 30, the researchers report. Teens and adults with a robust number sense reported doing moderately better at math in school and on the math portion of the SAT than those with a weak number sense. © Society for Science & the Public 2000 - 2012

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 18: Attention and Higher Cognition; Chapter 7: Life-Span Development of the Brain and Behavior
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 14: Attention and Consciousness; Chapter 13: Memory, Learning, and Development
Link ID: 16974 - Posted: 06.27.2012

By ALEX STONE PINCH a coin at its edge between the thumb and first fingers of your right hand and begin to place it in your left palm, without letting go. Begin to close the fingers of the left hand. The instant the coin is out of sight, extend the last three digits of your right hand and secretly retract the coin. Make a fist with your left — as if holding the coin — as your right hand palms the coin and drops to the side. You’ve just performed what magicians call a retention vanish: a false transfer that exploits a lag in the brain’s perception of motion, called persistence of vision. When done right, the spectator will actually see the coin in the left palm for a split second after the hands separate. This bizarre afterimage results from the fact that visual neurons don’t stop firing once a given stimulus (here, the coin) is no longer present. As a result, our perception of reality lags behind reality by about one one-hundredth of a second. Magicians have long used such cognitive biases to their advantage, and in recent years scientists have been following in their footsteps, borrowing techniques from the conjurer’s playbook in an effort not to mystify people but to study them. Magic may seem an unlikely tool, but it’s already yielded several widely cited results. Consider the work on choice blindness — people’s lack of awareness when evaluating the results of their decisions. In one study, shoppers in a blind taste test of two types of jam were asked to choose the one they preferred. They were then given a second taste from the jar they picked. Unbeknown to them, the researchers swapped the flavors before the second spoonful. The containers were two-way jars, lidded at both ends and rigged with a secret compartment that held the other jam on the opposite side — a principle that’s been used to bisect countless showgirls. This seems like the sort of thing that wouldn’t scan, yet most people failed to notice that they were tasting the wrong jam, even when the two flavors were fairly dissimilar, like grapefruit and cinnamon-apple. © 2012 The New York Times Company

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 18: Attention and Higher Cognition
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 14: Attention and Consciousness
Link ID: 16955 - Posted: 06.23.2012

By ARIEL KAMINER YOU could drive past the hulking warehouse on the rough patch of waterfront in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, several times without ever figuring it for the latest frontier of neurological thrill-seeking. But that’s where Yehuda Duenyas, 38, who calls himself “a creator of innovative experiences,” was camped out last week, along with his team of scrappy young technical wizards and a quarter-million dollars’ worth of circuitry, theatrical lighting and optimism called “The Ascent.” Part art installation, part adventure ride, part spiritual journey, “The Ascent” claims to let users harness their brain’s own electrical impulses, measured through EEG readings, to levitate themselves. During its brief stay in New York, it welcomed representatives from cultural organizations like PS 122 and Lincoln Center, event promoters and friends of the team. In the shadowy vastness of the warehouse, “The Ascent” looked spare and heroic, like the setting for the final showdown between good and evil. Up high, a large circular track of lights and equipment hung from the ceiling. Down on the floor, another circle mirrored the one above, with incandescent bulbs illuminating transient puffs of smoke and casting the apparatus in a ghostly light. In the 30 feet between the lights above and the lights below, the air seemed heavy with magic and danger. An assistant outfitted me with a harness around my middle and a couple of EEG sensors across my forehead. Another assistant led me to the center of the circle and snapped me into the two hanging cables. For one long and mysterious moment, I stood alone in silence. Then the fun began. © 2012 The New York Times Company

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 18: Attention and Higher Cognition
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 14: Attention and Consciousness
Link ID: 16954 - Posted: 06.23.2012