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Study offers new clue on how brain processes visual information
Date:7/23/2012

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. July 23, 2012 Ever wonder how the human brain, which is constantly bombarded with millions of pieces of visual information, can filter out what's unimportant and focus on what's most useful?

The process is known as selective attention and scientists have long debated how it works. But now, researchers at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center have discovered an important clue. Evidence from an animal study, published in the July 22 online edition of the journal Nature Neuroscience, shows that the prefrontal cortex is involved in a previously unknown way.

Two types of attention are utilized in the selective attention process bottom up and top down. Bottom-up attention is automatically guided to images that stand out from a background by virtue of color, shape or motion, such as a billboard on a highway. Top-down attention occurs when one's focus is consciously shifted to look for a known target in a visual scene, as when searching for a relative in a crowd.

Traditionally, scientists have believed that separate areas of the brain controlled these two processes, with bottom-up attention occurring in the posterior parietal cortex and top-down attention occurring in the prefrontal cortex.

"Our findings provide insights on the neural mechanisms behind the guidance of attention," said Christos Constantinidis, Ph.D., associate professor of neurobiology and anatomy at Wake Forest Baptist and senior author of the study. "This has implications for conditions such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), which affects millions of people worldwide. People with ADHD have difficulty filtering information and focusing attention. Our findings suggest that both the ability to focus attention intentionally and shifting attention to eye-catching but sometimes unimportant stimuli depend on the prefrontal cortex."

In the Wake Forest Baptist study, two monkeys were trained to detect images on a co
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Contact: Marguerite Beck
marbeck@wakehealth.edu
336-716-2415
Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center
Source:Eurekalert

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