Chapter 14. Attention and Consciousness

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By JAMES GORMAN One of the biggest problems in studying animal communication is figuring out whether the animals know what they are doing. A bird may screech and another bird may understand that the screech is a response to danger. But that doesn’t prove the screecher intended to warn others. It might have been a predictable but involuntary response to something scary, like a scream at a horror movie. So scientists spend a lot of time testing animals in ingenious ways to figure out what might be going on. Three scientists testing wild chimpanzees in Uganda reported Wednesday in the journal Science Advances that chimpanzees can do something that previously had only been known in human beings. They change the way they are communicating to take into account what their audience knows. Humans do this all the time. To a fellow baseball fan you might say, “So, there’s a runner on third, one out, bottom of the ninth, and McAfee hits a sac fly.” To someone from another planet, you might say, “There was a really exciting moment in a sporting event I was attending last night.” Or you might just forget it. Catherine Crockford and Roman M. Wittig of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, and Klaus Zuberbühler of the University of St. Andrews in Scotland were studying wild chimpanzees in Uganda, so the subject of their communication was snakes, not baseball. When a chimp saw a realistic model of a snake, the animal would make more sounds — called hoos — and make a greater effort to show where the snake was if it seemed that other chimps in the area were unaware of the danger. If it seemed other chimps already knew about the snake, it would make fewer calls and stay a shorter time at the danger. To run the experiment, the researchers put a model snake on a path chimpanzees used. When a chimp came along, before it reached the snake, they would play two different chimp calls — either a “rest hoo” or several “alert hoos.” The rest hoo would be made by a chimp that was resting, not aware of any danger. The alert hoos would indicate the chimp who made it had seen something dangerous, like a snake. So the chimp on the trail would know either that its neighbors were clueless or aware of danger. © 2017 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Consciousness; Evolution
Link ID: 24333 - Posted: 11.16.2017

Mariah Quintanilla Emma Watson, Jake Gyllenhaal, journalist Fiona Bruce and Barack Obama all walk into a sheep pen. No, this isn’t the beginning of a baaa-d joke. By training sheep using pictures of these celebrities, researchers from the University of Cambridge discovered that the animals are able to recognize familiar faces from 2-D images. Given a choice, the sheep picked the familiar celebrity’s face over an unfamiliar face the majority of the time, the researchers report November 8 in Royal Society Open Science. Even when a celeb’s face was slightly tilted rather than face-on, the sheep still picked the image more often than not. That means the sheep were not just memorizing images, demonstrating for the first time that sheep have advanced face-recognition capabilities similar to those of humans and other primates, say neurobiologist Jennifer Morton and her colleagues. Sheep have been known to pick out pictures of individuals in their flock, and even familiar handlers (SN: 10/6/12, p. 20). But it’s been unclear whether the skill was real recognition or simple memorization. Sheep now join other animals, including horses, dogs, rhesus macaques and mockingbirds, that are able to distinguish between individuals of other species. Over a series of four training sessions, the sheep’s ability to choose a familiar face, represented by one of the four celebrities, over a completely unfamiliar face improved. |© Society for Science & the Public 2000 - 2017.

Keyword: Attention; Evolution
Link ID: 24306 - Posted: 11.08.2017

Jon Hamilton When people don't get enough sleep, certain brain cells literally slow down. A study that recorded directly from neurons in the brains of 12 people found that sleep deprivation causes the bursts of electrical activity that brain cells use to communicate to become slower and weaker, a team reports online Monday in Nature Medicine. The finding could help explain why a lack of sleep impairs a range of mental functions, says Dr. Itzhak Fried, an author of the study and a professor of neurosurgery at the University of California, Los Angeles. "You can imagine driving a car and suddenly somebody jumps in front of the car at night," Fried says. "If you are sleep-deprived, your cells are going to react in a different way than in your normal state." The finding comes from an unusual study of patients being evaluated for surgery to correct severe epilepsy. As part of the evaluation, doctors place wires in the brain to find out where a patient's seizures are starting. That allows Fried and a team of scientists to monitor hundreds of individual brain cells, often for days. And because patients with epilepsy are frequently kept awake in order to provoke a seizure, the scientists had an ideal way to study the effects of sleep deprivation. In the study, all the patients agreed to categorize images of faces, places and animals. Each image caused cells in areas of the brain involved in perception to produce distinctive patterns of electrical activity. "These are the very neurons [that] are responsible for the way you process the world in front of you," Fried says. © 2017 npr

Keyword: Sleep; Attention
Link ID: 24301 - Posted: 11.07.2017

BC's Hogan twins, featured in the documentary Inseparable, are unique in the world. Joined at the head, their brains are connected by a thalamic bridge which gives them neurological capabilities that researchers are only now beginning to understand. Still, they are like other Canadian ten-year-olds; they attend school, have a favourite pet and are part of a large, loving family determined to live each day to the fullest. Here are a few highlights: Craniopagus twins, joined at the head, are a rarity — one in 2.5 million. The vast majority do not survive 24 hours. Krista and Tatiana Hogan were born October 25, 2006, in Vancouver, B.C. A CT scan of the twins showed they could never be separated due to the risk of serious injury or death. The structure of the twins’ brains makes them unique in the world. Their brains are connected by a thalamic bridge, connecting the thalamus of one with that of the other. The thalamus acts like a switchboard relaying sensory and motor signals and regulating consciousness. Krista and Tatiana Hogan share the senses of touch and taste and even control one another’s limbs. Tatiana can see out of both of Krista’s eyes, while Krista can only see out of one of Tatiana’s. Tatiana controls three arms and a leg, while Krista controls three legs and an arm. They can also switch to self-control of their limbs. The twins say they know one another’s thoughts without having to speak. “Talking in our heads” is how they describe it. The girls are diabetic and have epilepsy. They take a regimen of pills, blood tests and need daily insulin injections. The twins go to a regular school and as of September 2017 have started Grade 6. Though academically delayed, they are learning to read, write and do arithmetic. ©2017 CBC/Radio-Canada.

Keyword: Development of the Brain; Consciousness
Link ID: 24288 - Posted: 11.04.2017

Molecular method reveals neuronal basis of brain states – NIH-funded animal study. NIMH-funded scientists revealed the types of neurons supporting alertness, using a molecular method called MultiMAP in transparent larval zebrafish. Multiple types of neurons communicate by secreting the same major chemical messengers: serotonin (red), dopamine and noradrenalin (yellow) and acetylcholine (cyan). Using a molecular method likely to become widely adopted by the field, researchers supported by the National Institutes of Health have discovered brain circuitry essential for alertness, or vigilance – and for brain states more generally. Strikingly, the same cell types and circuits are engaged during alertness in zebra fish and mice, species whose evolutionary forebears parted ways hundreds of millions of years ago. This suggests that the human brain is likely similarly wired for this state critical to survival. “Vigilance gone awry marks states such as mania and those seen in post-traumatic stress disorder and depression,” explained Joshua Gordon, M.D., Ph.D., director of the NIH’s National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), which along with the National Institute on Drug Abuse, co-funded the study. “Gaining familiarity with the molecular players in a behavior – as this new tool promises – may someday lead to clinical interventions targeting dysfunctional brain states.” For the first time, Multi-MAP makes it possible to see which neurons are activated in a behaving animal during a particular brain state – and subsequently molecularly analyze just those neurons to identify the subtypes and circuits involved.

Keyword: Attention; Evolution
Link ID: 24282 - Posted: 11.03.2017

By Helen Thomson Do you find it difficult to spot a face in the crowd? Now we know why: people with face blindness seem to have a missing “hub” of brain connections. The discovery could be used to diagnose children with the condition, and teach them new ways to identify faces. People with prosopagnosia, which often runs in families, cannot easily tell faces apart. This can have a significant impact on people’s lives. People with the condition rely heavily on voice recognition, clothes, hairstyle and gait to identify people, but can still fail to recognise family and friends. It can lead to social anxiety and depression, and can often go undiagnosed for many years. Face processing isn’t a function of a single brain region, but involves the coordinated activity of several regions. To investigate what might be causing the problem, Galia Avidan at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Israel, and her colleagues scanned the brains of 10 adults who have reported life-long problems with face processing. They also scanned 10 adults without the condition. During the scan, participants were shown sets of images of emotional, neutral, famous and unfamiliar faces. During the task they were asked to press a button when two consecutive images were identical. Some of the images also included buildings, which people with face blindness do not have any trouble identifying – these acted as a control. © Copyright New Scientist Ltd.

Keyword: Attention
Link ID: 24281 - Posted: 11.03.2017

By JANE E. BRODY After two hourlong sessions focused first on body awareness and then on movement retraining at the Feldenkrais Institute of New York, I understood what it meant to experience an incredible lightness of being. Having, temporarily at least, released the muscle tension that aggravates my back and hip pain, I felt like I was walking on air. I had long refrained from writing about this method of countering pain because I thought it was some sort of New Age gobbledygook with no scientific basis. Boy, was I wrong! The Feldenkrais method is one of several increasingly popular movement techniques, similar to the Alexander technique, that attempt to better integrate the connections between mind and body. By becoming aware of how one’s body interacts with its surroundings and learning how to behave in less stressful ways, it becomes possible to relinquish habitual movement patterns that cause or contribute to chronic pain. The method was developed by Moshe Feldenkrais, an Israeli physicist, mechanical engineer and expert in martial arts, after a knee injury threatened to leave him unable to walk. Relying on his expert knowledge of gravity and the mechanics of motion, he developed exercises to help teach the body easier, more efficient ways to move. I went to the institute at the urging of Cathryn Jakobson Ramin, author of the recently published book “Crooked” that details the nature and results of virtually every current approach to treating back pain, a problem that has plagued me on and off (now mostly on) for decades. Having benefited from Feldenkrais lessons herself, Ms. Ramin had good reason to believe they would help me.

Keyword: Pain & Touch; Attention
Link ID: 24259 - Posted: 10.30.2017

By GRETCHEN REYNOLDS Do brains trump brawn? A remarkable new study of how the human body prioritizes its inner workings found that if you intensely think at the same time as you intensely exercise, your performance in both thinking and moving can worsen. But your muscles’ performance will decline much more than your brain’s will, the study found. The results raise interesting questions about the roles that our body’s wide-ranging abilities may have played in the evolution of humans and also whether a hard workout is the ideal time to be cogitating. Compared to almost all other animals, we humans have disproportionately large brains for our size. Our supersized cranial contents probably provided an advantage during our evolution as a species. Smart creatures presumably could have outwitted predators and outmaneuvered prey, keeping themselves fed, uneaten and winners in the biological sweepstakes to pass on their genes. But most other species eschewed developing similarly outsized brains during evolution, because large brains carry a hefty metabolic cost. Brains are extraordinarily hungry organs, requiring, ounce for ounce, more calories to sustain their operations than almost any other tissue, and these caloric demands rise when the brain is hard at work. Thinking demands considerable bodily fuel. In order to feed and maintain these large brains, early humans’ bodies had to make certain trade-offs, most evolutionary biologists agree. Our digestive systems shrank during evolution, for one thing, since food processing is also metabolically ravenous. But whether a similar trade-off occurred with our muscles has remained in doubt. Muscles potentially provided another route to survival during our species’ early days. With sufficient brawn, animals, including people, could physically overpower prey and sprint from danger. © 2017 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Attention
Link ID: 24243 - Posted: 10.26.2017

By Jessica Hamzelou Ever realised you have driven yourself home but haven’t really been paying attention? Brain scans have revealed that when your mind wanders, it switches into “autopilot” mode, enabling you to carry on doing tasks quickly, accurately and without conscious thought. Our autopilot mode seems to be run by a set of brain structures called the default mode network (DMN). It was discovered in the 1990s, when researchers noticed that people lying in brain scanners show patterns of brain activity even when they aren’t really doing anything. This research provided the first evidence that our brains are active even when we aren’t consciously putting our minds to work. But what does the DMN do? Several studies have found that it seems to be involved in assessing past events and planning for the future. Others suggest the network is involved in self-awareness – although this has been called into question by findings that rats and newborns appear to have a version of the DMN too. It is unlikely that rats are conscious of themselves in the same way that humans are, says Deniz Vatansever at the University of York, UK. Instead, the DMN must have a more basic function, common to all animals. Vatansever and his colleagues at the University of Cambridge wondered if the network might help us do things without paying much attention, such as tying our shoelaces, or driving along a familiar road. © Copyright New Scientist Ltd.

Keyword: Attention
Link ID: 24240 - Posted: 10.25.2017

Jon Hamilton When it comes to brain training, some workouts seem to work better than others. A comparison of the two most common training methods scientists use to improve memory and attention found that one was twice as effective as the other. The more effective method also changed brain activity in a part of the brain involved in high-level thinking. But neither method made anyone smarter, says Kara Blacker, the study's lead author and a researcher at The Henry M. Jackson Foundation for the Advancement of Military Medicine in Bethesda, Md. "Our hypothesis was that training might improve fluid intelligence or IQ," Blacker says. "But that's not what we found." Blacker did the memory research when she was part of a team at Johns Hopkins University and the Kennedy Krieger Institute in Baltimore. The results were reported in the Journal of Cognitive Enhancement. The team compared two approaches to improving working memory, which acts as a kind of mental workspace where we store information temporarily. "If somebody gives you directions, you have to keep that information in mind long enough to actually execute going to that location," Blacker says. "If someone tells you a phone number, you have to be able to remember it." To test different methods for improving working memory, the team had 136 young adults spend a month training their brains for 30 minutes a day, five days a week. Johns Hopkins University YouTube One group did something called a "complex span" test, which involves remembering the location of an item despite distractions. A second group trained with something called the dual n-back test. Each day they would sit at a computer watching flashing squares appear on a grid and listening to a voice reading letters from the alphabet. © 2017 npr

Keyword: Learning & Memory; Attention
Link ID: 24231 - Posted: 10.23.2017

Emma Young Every dog owner is familiar with the ‘puppy dog eyes’ expression. As the inner brow lifts, the eyes get bigger and bigger … It’s tempting to interpret this as a plea from a sad dog for a scrap of the family dinner. Now, a small study provides support for the idea that dogs do indeed produce facial expressions to communicate with people — although perhaps just to engage us, rather than to manipulate us. The dogs in the study produced more than twice as many facial expressions (‘puppy dog eyes’ was one of the most common) when a researcher was facing them than when she was turned away. But it didn't seem to matter whether she also held food. Earlier studies have shown that seeing food is more exciting to a dog than is social contact with a silent person, so something other than the dogs’ emotional state must have been responsible for the effect. “Dogs make their eyes more attractive to us while we are watching, not just when we are in the vicinity or in response to food,” says Brian Hare, a cognitive neuroscientist and co-director of the Duke Canine Cognition Center at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina. “This is fantastic work.” The study, published on 19 October in Scientific Reports1, adds to a growing body of work that shows how sensitive dogs are to human attention. It also provides the first evidence in a non-primate species that facial expressions can be used actively to communicate, says psychologist Juliane Kaminski at the Dog Cognition Centre at the University of Portsmouth, UK, who led the research. Researchers had previously assumed that such expressions are an involuntary reflection of an animal’s emotional state. © 2017 Macmillan Publishers Limited,

Keyword: Emotions; Attention
Link ID: 24224 - Posted: 10.20.2017

By BENEDICT CAREY In just the past few years, researchers have identified what they believe is an adult version of attention deficit disorder: a restless inability to concentrate that develops spontaneously after high school, years after the syndrome typically shows itself, and without any early signs. The proposed diagnosis — called adult-onset A.D.H.D. and potentially applicable to millions of people in their late teens or older — is distinct from the usual adult variety, in which symptoms linger from childhood. Yet a new study suggests that adult-onset A.D.H.D. is rare — if it exists at all. The paper, published Friday in the American Journal of Psychiatry, could deepen the debate over these symptoms rather than settle it. Previously, three large analyses had estimated the prevalence of the disorder at 3 to 10 percent of adults. The new study, while smaller, mined more extensive medical histories than earlier work and found that most apparent cases of adult-onset attention deficits are likely the result of substance abuse or mood problems. “This study carefully considered whether each person met criteria for A.D.H.D. and also fully considered other disorders” that might better explain the symptoms, said Mary Solanto, an associate professor of pediatrics at the Zucker School of Medicine at Hofstra/Northwell. “In all those respects, it is the most thorough study we have looking at this issue.” Dr. Solanto said the study all but ruled out adult-onset A.D.H.D. as a stand-alone diagnosis. Other experts cautioned that it was too early to say definitively, and noted that attention deficits often precede mood and substance abuse problems — which in turn can mask the condition. The new analysis drew on data from a decades-long study of childhood A.D.H.D. that had tracked youngsters from age 9 or 10 up through early adulthood, gathering detailed histories from multiple sources, including doctors and parents. © 2017 The New York Times Company

Keyword: ADHD
Link ID: 24223 - Posted: 10.20.2017

By Helen Thomson THE most detailed study ever of brain activity during orgasm has discovered why climaxing makes women feel less pain, and shown that “switching off” isn’t necessary. Nan Wise at Rutgers University, New Jersey, and her colleagues recruited 10 women to lie in a functional MRI scanner and stimulate themselves to orgasm. They then repeated the experiment but had the volunteers’ partners stimulate them. The team was able to follow brain activity in 20-second intervals to see what happens just before, during and after orgasm. Back in 1985, Wise’s colleagues Beverly Whipple and Barry Komisaruk, both at Rutgers, discovered that during self-stimulation and orgasm, women’s ability to withstand painful finger squeezing increased by 75 per cent, and the level of squeezing at which women noticed the pain more than doubled. Now Wise’s team has explained why. At the point of orgasm, the brain’s dorsal raphe nucleus area becomes more active. This region plays a role in controlling the release of serotonin, which can act as an analgesic, dampening the sensation of pain. Her team also saw a burst of activity in the nucleus cuneiformis, which is a part of systems thought to help us control pain through thought alone. “Together, this activity – at least in part – seems to account for the pain attenuating effect of the female orgasm,” says Wise. It’s not yet clear why pain sensation decreases during orgasm, or if men experience the same phenomenon. © Copyright New Scientist Ltd.

Keyword: Sexual Behavior; Attention
Link ID: 24221 - Posted: 10.20.2017

By Daisy Grewal Despite its importance for health and well-being, many American adults find it difficult to consistently get enough sleep. Approximately 50 to 70 million Americans suffer from a sleep disorder, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Sleep disturbances are particularly common in older adults and involve a variety of problems including difficulties falling or staying asleep, interrupted breathing, and restless leg syndrome. A person’s racial background can influence their likelihood of developing a sleep disorder, with a greater number of African Americans reporting sleep disturbances compared to White Americans. Beyond its effects on health, not getting enough sleep can lead to car accidents, medical errors, or other mistakes on the job. To encourage better sleep, the medical community encourages adults to engage in good “sleep hygiene” such as limiting or avoiding caffeine and nicotine, avoiding naps during the day, turning off electronics an hour before bed, exercising, and practicing relaxation before bedtime. It is also well-known that mental health is closely linked to sleep; insomnia is more common in people suffering from depression or anxiety. A recent study now raises the possibility that sleep could be affected by the degree to which someone feels like their life is purposeful or meaningful. Arlener Turner, Christine Smith, and Jason Ong of the Northwestern University School of Medicine found that people who reported having a greater sense of purpose in life also reported getting better sleep – even when taking into consideration age, gender, race, and level of education. © 2017 Scientific American

Keyword: Sleep; Attention
Link ID: 24217 - Posted: 10.19.2017

By Helen Thomson The most detailed study yet of orgasm brain activity has discovered why climaxing makes women feel less pain and shown that ‘switching off’ isn’t necessary. It’s not easy to study the brain during orgasm. “A brain scanner like fMRI is the least sexy place in the world,” says Nan Wise at Rutgers University in Newark, New Jersey. “It’s noisy, claustrophobic and cold.” There is also the problem of keeping your head still – movement of little more than the width of a pound coin can render data useless. Despite these hurdles, Wise and her colleagues recruited 10 heterosexual women to lay in a fMRI scanner and stimulate themselves to orgasm. They then repeated the experiment but had their partners stimulate them. Wise’s custom-fitted head stabiliser allowed the team to follow brain activity in 20 second intervals to see what happens just before, during, and after an orgasm. Pain relief Back in 1985, Wise’s colleagues Beverly Whipple and Barry Komisaruk, both at Rutgers, discovered that, during self-stimulation and orgasm, women are less likely to notice painful squeezing of a finger, and can tolerate more of this pain. They found that women’s ability to withstand pain increased by 75 per cent during stimulation, while the level of squeezing at which women noticed the pain more than doubled. Now Wise’s team has explained why. At the point of orgasm, the dorsal raphe nucleus area of the brain becomes more active. This region plays a role in controlling the release of the brain chemical serotonin, which can act as an analgesic, dampening the sensation of pain. © Copyright New Scientist Ltd.

Keyword: Sexual Behavior; Attention
Link ID: 24187 - Posted: 10.13.2017

By Bret Stetka The concept of mindfulness involves focusing on your present situation and state of mind. This can mean awareness of your surroundings, emotions and breathing—or, more simply, enjoying each bite of a really good sandwich. Research in recent decades has linked mindfulness practices to a staggering collection of possible health benefits. Tuning into the world around you may provide a sense of well-being, an array of studies claim. Multiple reports link mindfulness with improved cognitive functioning. One study even suggests it may preserve the tips of our chromosomes, which whither away as we age. Yet many psychologists, neuroscientists and meditation experts are afraid that hype is outpacing the science. In an article released this week in Perspectives on Psychological Science, 15 prominent psychologists and cognitive scientists caution that despite its popularity and supposed benefits, scientific data on mindfulness is woefully lacking. Many of the studies on mindfulness and meditation, the authors wrote, are poorly designed—compromised by inconsistent definitions of what mindfulness actually is, and often void of a control group to rule out the placebo effect. The new paper cites a 2015 review published in American Psychologist reporting that only around 9 percent of research into mindfulness-based interventions has been tested in clinical trials that included a control group. © 2017 Scientific American

Keyword: Stress; Attention
Link ID: 24182 - Posted: 10.12.2017

Nicola Davis When it comes to understanding how another person thinks and feels, it might be best to close your eyes and listen. A study by an American psychologist suggests that people are better able to pick up on the emotions of others when simply focusing on their voice, compared with both watching and listening to them, or just watching them. “Humans are actually remarkably good at using many of their senses for conveying emotions, but emotion research historically is focused almost exclusively on the facial expressions,” said Michael Kraus, a social psychologist at Yale University and author of the study. While combining information from a person’s voice with their facial expressions and other cues might at first seem like a way to boost understanding of their thoughts and feelings, Kraus says pooling the senses divides attention. What’s more, he notes, facial expressions can mask a person’s true feelings – something that he says is harder to do with the voice – while language plays a key role in how people understand and label their emotions. The upshot, he says, is that what people say, and the way they say it, offers the clearest insights into the emotions of others. “Listening matters,” said Kraus. “Actually considering what people are saying and the ways in which they say it can, I believe, lead to improved understanding of others at work or in your personal relationships.” © 2017 Guardian News and Media Limited

Keyword: Attention; Hearing
Link ID: 24173 - Posted: 10.11.2017

Children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder may fidget, tap and swivel around in a chair much more than normally developing children because it helps them to learn complex material, psychologists have found. ADHD is often perceived as a behavioural problem because it can result in symptoms such as inattention, impulsivity, and hyperactivity that can affect social interaction and learning. Scientists increasingly recognize ADHD as a brain disorder that affects about five per cent of the school-age population. Now brain tests show children with ADHD tend to learn less when sitting still compared to when they're moving. It is not for lack of motivation, says Prof. Mark Rapport, a child psychopathology researcher who focuses on ADHD at the University of Central Florida in Orlando. Rapport and his colleagues set out to test an observation made by many parents — that children with ADHD can pay attention if they are doing an activity they enjoy. They put 32 boys aged eight to 12 with ADHD and 30 of their peers who are not affected by the disorder through a battery of memory and other tests. Participants watched two videos on separate days: an instructional math lesson without performing the calculations, and a scene from Star Wars Episode 1 — The Phantom Menace. During the Star Wars movie, the boys with ADHD did not squirm more than other children, but when asked to concentrate on the math lesson, there was a difference between the two groups. "All children and all people in general, moved more when they were engaged in a working memory task. Kids with ADHD move about twice as much under the same conditions," Rapport said. ©2017 CBC/Radio-Canada.

Keyword: ADHD; Learning & Memory
Link ID: 24164 - Posted: 10.09.2017

By HEATHER MURPHY Well done -- you are an atypical person. Usually people notice the other, smaller toothbrush first. Most people will quickly spot the toothbrush on the front of the counter, but take longer — or even fail to find — the much bigger one behind it. The oversight has to do with scale. People have a tendency to miss objects when their size is inconsistent with their surroundings, according to a recent study in Current Biology. This is just the latest in a robust body of research that reveals how expectations dramatically affect our ability to notice what’s around us. Though the image above was provided by the authors of the study to illuminate their point, the study was set up slightly differently. The researchers were interested not only in what people saw — but also in how their performance compared with computers. Flesh-and-blood participants and a deep neural network, a computer system with advanced machine vision, were given one second to select an object in a computer-rendered scene, such as the one below. The object could be absent, presented at scale or featured at four times scale. Is there a parking meter in this image? Once you know what to expect, of course, it's easier. In the study, the object was either absent, presented at scale or featured at four times scale. Humans missed giant objects about 13 percent more than normal-sized objects, the researchers found. Scale had no impact on machine performance. “We were surprised about how compelling of an effect it is,” said Miguel Eckstein, a psychologist at the University of California, Santa Barbara’s Vision and Image Understanding Laboratory and one of the authors. In particular, the first time a person examined a photo with a giant object, the object often seemed to be invisible. But it’s not a deficiency, he said: “This is a useful trick the brain does to rapidly process scenes and find what we are looking for.” © 2017 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Attention
Link ID: 24161 - Posted: 10.07.2017

Victoria Lorrimar Michael Burdett The idea of dangerous, inhumane artificial intelligence taking over the world is familiar to many of us, thanks to cautionary tales such as the Matrix and Terminator franchises. But what about the more sympathetic portrayals of robots? The benevolence of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Terminator character in the later movies of the franchise may have been the exception in older portrayals of AI, but human-like machines are often represented more positively in contemporary films. Think of Ex Machina, Chappie or A.I. Artificial Intelligence. This shift is very likely representative of a wider shift in how we think about these technologies in reality. Blade Runner 2049, long-anticipated sequel to the original 1982 Blade Runner film, is a part of this shift. The ability of science fiction to inspire technological innovation is well-known. A lot of science fiction writers are scientists and technologists (Arthur C Clarke and Geoffrey Landis are two examples), and ideas from science fiction have sparked more serious scientific research (touch screens and tablet computers are common examples). But science fiction serves other purposes too. It can be a tool for exploring the social and ethical implications of technologies being developed now – a fictional laboratory for testing possible futures. It can also prepare us to deal with certain technologies as they arise in the real world. © 2010–2017, The Conversation US, Inc.

Keyword: Consciousness; Robotics
Link ID: 24160 - Posted: 10.07.2017