Navigation Links
How do we split our attention?
Date:12/21/2011

Imagine you're a hockey goalie, and two opposing players are breaking in alone on you, passing the puck back and forth. You're aware of the linesman skating in on your left, but pay him no mind. Your focus is on the puck and the two approaching players. As the action unfolds, how is your brain processing this intense moment of "multi-tasking"? Are you splitting your focus of attention into multiple "spotlights?" Are you using one "spotlight" and switching between objects very quickly? Or are you "zooming out" the spotlight and taking it all in at once?

These are the questions Julio Martinez-Trujillo, a cognitive neurophysiology specialist from McGill University, and his team set out to answer in a new study on multifocal attention. They found that, for the first time, there's evidence that we can pay attention to more than one thing at a time.

"When we multi-task and attend to multiple objects, our visual attention has been classically described as a "zoom lens" that extend over a region of space or as a spotlight that switches from one object to the other," Martinez-Trujillo, the lead author of the study, explained. "These modes of action of attention are problematic because when zooming out attention over an entire region we include objects of interest but also distracters in between. Thus, we waste processing resources on irrelevant distracting information. And when a single spotlight jumps from one object to another, there is a limit to how fast that could go and how can the brain accommodate such a rapid switch. Importantly, if we accept that attention works as a single spotlight we may also accept that the brain has evolved to pay attention to one thing at the time and therefore multi-tasking is not an ability that naturally fits our brain architecture"

Martinez-Trujillo's approach in getting to the bottom of this long-standing controversy was novel. The team recorded the activity of single neurons in the brains of two monkeys while the animals concentrated on two objects that circumvented a third 'distracter' object. The neural recordings showed that attention can in fact, be split into two "spotlights" corresponding to the relevant objects and excluding the in-between distracter.

"One implication of these findings is that our brain has evolved to attend to more than one object in parallel, and therefore to multi-task," said Martinez-Trujillo. "Though there are limits, our brains have this ability."

The researchers also found that the split of the "spotlight" is much more efficient when the distractors are very different from the objects being attended. Going back to the very apt hockey analogy, Martinez-Trujillo explained that if a Montreal Canadiens forward is paying attention to two Boston Bruins in yellow and black, he'll have a more difficult time ignoring the linesmen, also wearing black, than if he was in a similar situation but facing two Vancouver Canucks with blue and green uniforms, easily distinguishable from the linesmen in black'.

In the next generation of experiments, the researchers will explore the limits of our ability to split attention and multi-task looking more closely at how the similarity between objects affects multi-tasking limits and how those variables can be integrated into a quantitative model.


'/>"/>
Contact: Allison Flynn
allison.j.flynn@mcgill.ca
514-398-7698
McGill University
Source:Eurekalert

Related biology news :

1. Dwarf crocodiles split into three species
2. Dancing adatoms help chemists understand how water molecules split
3. Weizmann Institute scientists develop a unique approach for splitting water into hydrogen and oxygen
4. Cells split personality is a major discovery into neurological diseases
5. Understanding a cells split personality aids synthetic circuits
6. MIT researchers harness viruses to split water
7. Biosensors reveal how single bacterium gets the message to split into a swimming and a stay-put cell
8. China fossil shows bird, crocodile family trees split earlier than thought
9. 25 Tesla, world-record split magnet makes its debut
Post Your Comments:
*Name:
*Comment:
*Email:
(Date:3/11/2016)... HANOVER, Germany , March 11, 2016 ... - Cross reference: Picture is available at AP Images ( ... scanner from DERMALOG will be used to produce the new refugee ... of other biometric innovations, at CeBIT in Hanover ... LF10 scanner from DERMALOG will be used to produce the new ...
(Date:3/10/2016)... BLUE BELL, Pa. , March 10, 2016   ... U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is testing ... in San Diego to help identify ... United States . The test, designed to help determine ... outdoor, pedestrian environment, began in February and will run until ...
(Date:3/9/2016)... , March 9, 2016  Crossmatch ® ... and enrollment solutions, today announced the addition of ... Altus multi-factor authentication platform. New contextual ... managers to step-up security where it,s needed most ... Washington, DC . --> ...
Breaking Biology News(10 mins):
(Date:5/3/2016)... ... May 03, 2016 , ... ... of Dr. Nancy Gillett to its Board of Directors. Dr. Gillett recently retired ... Corporate Executive Vice President and Chief Scientific Officer. A board-certified veterinary pathologist, Dr. ...
(Date:5/3/2016)... 2016 - And Other Rising ... of Those Competitor Biologics  - Biosimilar Drug ... Prospects ,  Who are the most important ... are their sales potentials? Discover, in our updated survey, ... opportunities and revenue forecasting. Visiongain,s ...
(Date:5/3/2016)... ... May 03, 2016 , ... ... and IVF laboratories. A contingency of reproductive endocrinologists, including Dr. George Hill ... experiencing infertility and to help them build families. , Ovation Fertility is a ...
(Date:5/2/2016)... , ... May 02, 2016 , ... StarNet Communications Corp, ... announced the addition of three Secure Remote Desktop modules to its flagship X-Win32 PC ... from Linux and Unix servers to the user’s PC over encrypted SSH. , Traditionally, ...
Breaking Biology Technology: