The world is a dazzling array of people, objects, sounds, smells and events: far too much for us to fully experience at any moment. So our attention may automatically be snagged by something startling, such as a slamming door, or we may deliberately focus on something that is important to us right then, such as locating our child among the happily screaming hordes on the school playground. We also know that people are hard-wired to seek out and pay attention to things that are rewarding, such as food when we are hungry, or water when we are thirsty.
So what happens when the things that signify a "reward" are actually not important at all? Are they still powerful enough to capture our attention, when so many other things are competing for it?
According a team of neuroscientists at Johns Hopkins, the answer is "yes," especially when those things previously have been associated with something rewarding, such as money. In a paper published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a team led by Steven Yantis found that test subjects who were completing a visual search task were distracted when items that had previously been associated with small amounts of money occasionally appeared.
The results have implications for understanding how the brain responds to rewarding stimuli, which may contribute to the development of more effective treatments for drug addiction, obesity and ADHD, said Yantis, professor and chair of psychological and brain sciences in the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences.
"We know that not everyone who takes drugs becomes addicted to them, but we also recognize that there is some connection between the euphoria that the drugs cause and how that sensation 'rewires' the brain in ways that make it difficult to suppress the craving to experience that again," he explains. "One aspect of this scenario is how reward-related objects capture attention automatically in the way th
|Contact: Lisa DeNike|
Johns Hopkins University