Navigation Links
Controlling brain waves to improve vision

Have you ever accidently missed a red light or a stop sign? Or have you heard someone mention a visible event that you passed by but totally missed seeing?

"When we have different things competing for our attention, we can only be aware of so much of what we see," said Kyle Mathewson, Beckman Institute Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Illinois. "For example, when you're driving, you might really be concentrating on obeying traffic signals."

But say there's an unexpected event: an emergency vehicle, a pedestrian, or an animal running into the roadwill you actually see the unexpected, or will you be so focused on your initial task that you don't notice?

"In the car, we may see something so brief or so faint, while we're paying attention to something else, that the event won't come into our awareness," says Mathewson. "If you present this scenario hundreds of times to someone, sometimes they will see the unexpected event, and sometimes they won't because their brain is in a different preparation state."

By using a novel technique to test brain waves, Mathewson and colleagues at the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology at the University of Illinois are discovering how the brain processes external stimuli that do and don't reach our awareness. A paper about their results, "Dynamics of Alpha Control: Preparatory Suppression of Posterior Alpha Oscillations by Frontal Modulators Revealed with Combined EEG and Event-related Optical Signal," published this month in the Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, reveals how alpha waves, typically thought of as your brain's electrical activity while it's at rest, can actually influence what we see or don't see.

The researchers used both electroencephalography (EEG) and the event-related optical signal (EROS), developed in the Cognitive Neuroimaging Laboratory of Gabriele Gratton and Monica Fabiani, professors of psychology and members of the Beckman Institute's Cognitive Neuroscience Group, and authors of the study.

While EEG records the electrical activity along the scalp, EROS uses infrared light passed through optical fibers to measure changes in optical properties in the active areas of the cerebral cortex. Because of the hard skull between the EEG sensors and the brain, it can be difficult to find exactly WHERE signals are produced. EROS, which examines how light is scattered, can noninvasively pinpoint activity within the brain.

"EROS is based on near-infrared light," explained Fabiani and Gratton via email. "It exploits the fact that when neurons are active, they swell a little, becoming slightly more transparent to light: this allows us to determine when a particular part of the cortex is processing information, as well as where the activity occurs."

This allowed the researchers to not only measure activity in the brain, but also allowed them to map where the alpha oscillations were originating. Their discovery: the alpha waves are produced in the cuneus, located in the part of the brain that processes visual information.

The alpha can inhibit what is processed visually, making it hard for you to see something unexpected.

By focusing your attention and concentrating more fully on what you are experiencing, however, the executive function of the brain can come into play and provide "top-down" controlputting a brake on the alpha waves, thus allowing you to see things that you might have missed in a more relaxed state.

"We found that the same brain regions known to control our attention are involved in suppressing the alpha waves and improving our ability to detect hard-to-see targets," said Diane Beck, a member of the Beckman's Cognitive Neuroscience Group, and one of the study's authors.

"Knowing where the waves originate means we can target that area specifically with electrical stimulation" said Mathewson. "Or we can also give people moment-to-moment feedback, which could be used to alert drivers that they are not paying attention and should increase their focus on the road ahead, or in other situations alert students in a classroom that they need to focus more, or athletes, or pilots and equipment operators."

The study examined 16 subjects and mapped the electrical and optical data onto individual MRI brain images.


Contact: Maeve Reilly
Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology

Related biology news :

1. Characterization of stink bug saliva proteins opens door to controlling pests
2. Controlling parasitic worms with genetic selection
3. Oregon scientists offer new insights on controlling nanoparticle stability
4. Controlling the triggers of age-related inflammation could extend healthspan
5. Controlling genes with light
6. Cell-permeable peptide shows promise for controlling cardiovascular disease
7. White blood cells found to play key role in controlling red blood cell levels
8. New approaches for controlling pesticide exposure in children
9. Discovery of Africa moth species important for agriculture, controlling invasive plants
10. Could chloroplast breakthrough unlock key to controlling fruit ripening in crops?
11. New neural pathway controlling skeletal development discovered
Post Your Comments:
Related Image:
Controlling brain waves to improve vision
(Date:11/17/2015)... Paris from 17 th until ... from 17 th until 19 th November ... has invented the first combined scanner in the world which scans ... Until now two different scanners were required: one for passports ... on the same surface. This innovation is an ideal solution ...
(Date:11/17/2015)... 2015  Vigilant Solutions announces today that Mr. ... Directors. --> --> ... the partnership at TPG Capital, one of the largest ... Billion in revenue.  He founded and led TPG,s Operating ... companies, from 1997 to 2013.  In his first role, ...
(Date:11/16/2015)... Nov 16, 2015  Synaptics Inc. (NASDAQ: ... solutions, today announced expansion of its TDDI product ... touch controller and display driver integration (TDDI) solutions ... These new TDDI products add to the previously-announced ... TD4302 (WQHD resolution), and TD4322 (FHD resolution) solutions. ...
Breaking Biology News(10 mins):
(Date:11/25/2015)... ... November 25, 2015 , ... Jessica Richman and ... early in their initial angel funding process. Now, they are paying it forward ... make early stage investments in the microbiome space. In this, they join ...
(Date:11/24/2015)... Nov. 24, 2015 Cepheid (NASDAQ: CPHD ... at the following conference, and invited investors to participate ...      Tuesday, December 1, 2015 at 11.00 a.m. ...      Tuesday, December 1, 2015 at 11.00 a.m. ... New York, NY      Tuesday, December ...
(Date:11/24/2015)... , ... November 24, 2015 , ... ... healthy metabolism. But unless it is bound to proteins, copper is also toxic ... (NIH), researchers at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) will conduct a systematic study of ...
(Date:11/24/2015)... , Nov. 24, 2015  Clintrax Global, Inc., a worldwide ... Carolina , today announced that the company has set a ... a 391% quarter on quarter growth posted for Q3 of 2014 ... and Mexico , with the establishment of ... December 2015. --> United Kingdom and ...
Breaking Biology Technology: