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Controlling brain waves to improve vision
Date:4/24/2014

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 I
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Contact: Maeve Reilly
mjreilly@illinois.edu
217-244-7316
Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology
Source:Eurekalert  

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