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Scientists discover brain's anti-distraction system
Date:4/18/2014

Two Simon Fraser University psychologists have made a brain-related discovery that could revolutionize doctors' perception and treatment of attention-deficit disorders.

This discovery opens up the possibility that environmental and/or genetic factors may hinder or suppress a specific brain activity that the researchers have identified as helping us prevent distraction.

The Journal of Neuroscience has just published a paper about the discovery by John McDonald, an associate professor of psychology and his doctoral student John Gaspar, who made the discovery during his master's thesis research.

This is the first study to reveal our brains rely on an active suppression mechanism to avoid being distracted by salient irrelevant information when we want to focus on a particular item or task.

McDonald, a Canada Research Chair in Cognitive Neuroscience, and other scientists first discovered the existence of the specific neural index of suppression in his lab in 2009. But, until now, little was known about how it helps us ignore visual distractions.

"This is an important discovery for neuroscientists and psychologists because most contemporary ideas of attention highlight brain processes that are involved in picking out relevant objects from the visual field. It's like finding Waldo in a Where's Waldo illustration," says Gaspar, the study's lead author.

"Our results show clearly that this is only one part of the equation and that active suppression of the irrelevant objects is another important part."

Given the proliferation of distracting consumer devices in our technology-driven, fast-paced society, the psychologists say their discovery could help scientists and health care professionals better treat individuals with distraction-related attentional deficits.

"Distraction is a leading cause of injury and death in driving and other high-stakes environments," notes McDonald, the study's s
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Contact: Carol Thorbes
cthorbes@sfu.ca
778-782-3035
Simon Fraser University
Source:Eurekalert

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