To Pay Attention, the Brain Uses Filters, Not a Spotlight | Quanta Magazine - Deepstash

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The Brain’s Unique Signal-filtering Process

The Brain’s Unique Signal-filtering Process

Even with massive amounts of information drowning our senses, we can focus on what is important and take action.

The brain’s ability to focus on a particular signal while filtering out the rest is now being studied by neuroscientists in detail, and the decades-old studies of the brain cortex being responsible for the same are now proving to be incomplete.

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Attentional Searchlight

  • While the prefrontal cortex region of the brain had long been studied by neuroscientists, a separate region of the brain, called thalamus came in the picture in 1984, by a new theory that suggested that the region acts as a gatekeeper of the senses, apart from being a relay centre.
  • The region has a thin layer of inhibitory neurons wrapped around it, called the thalamic reticular nucleus(TRN), which acted as ‘gates’ and hid or removed some of the data that is not required at a given time, to establish a level of focus for the individual.
  • The study found that the brain was lowering the unwanted signals to help us focus on the stimuli of interest.

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Removal Of Signals: The Blinking Brain

The brain’s ability to focus on one thing while obscuring, curbing or reducing the signal strength of other (presumably unwanted) stimuli can be dangerous if those turn out to be unexpectedly important.

The brain, evolved as it is, has a unique way to handle this issue, by reducing the signal strength of the focused object about four times per second, suppressing what’s important to focus on the other signals, some of which may also be important. The brain is already wired to blink.

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New Frontiers Of The Signal Strength Study

Neuroscientists are now also looking at the basal ganglia region of the brain, commonly associated with motor control, apart from reward-based learning and decision making.

The new frontiers of this study include the brain’s attention, action cues and even the elusive subject of consciousness.

The brain, it seems, is interlinked and interconnected in many ways yet to be understood.

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