attention

Brain implant reveals the neural patterns of attention

February, 2010

A paralyzed patient implanted with a brain-computer interface device has allowed scientists to determine the relationship between brain waves and attention.

A paralyzed patient implanted with a brain-computer interface device has allowed scientists to determine the relationship between brain waves and attention. Recordings found a characteristic pattern of activity as the subject paid close attention to the task. High-frequency beta oscillations increased in strength as the subject waited for the relevant instruction, with peaks of activity occurring just before each instructional cue. After receiving the relevant instruction and before the subject moved the cursor, the beta oscillation intensity fell dramatically to lower levels through the remaining, irrelevant instructions. On the other hand, the slower delta oscillation adjusted its frequency to mirror the timing of each instructional cue. The authors suggest that this "internal metronome" function may help fine-tune beta oscillations, so that maximum attention is paid at the appropriate time.

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Letters A and F affect test scores

February, 2010

In another demonstration of the many factors that affect exam success, three experiments have found that seeing the letter A before an exam makes a student more likely to perform better than if he sees the letter F instead.

In another demonstration of the many factors that affect exam success, three experiments involving a total of 131 college students have found that seeing the letter A before an exam makes a student more likely to perform better than if he sees the letter F instead. In the first experiment, 23 undergraduates took a word-analogies test, of which half were labeled "Test Bank ID: F" in the top right corner, and half "Test Bank ID: A". The A group got an average of 11.08 of 12 answers correct, compared to 9.42 for the F group. The same pattern was confirmed in two more studies. Moreover, performance of students whose exams were labeled "Test Bank ID:J" fell between those with the A and F test papers. While hard to believe, these findings are consistent with the many findings supporting the idea of "stereotype threat" (the tendency to do less well on a test when a person fears their performance could confirm a negative stereotype about their racial or gender group).

Reference: 

[154] Ciani, K. D. [1], & Sheldon K. M. [2]
(2010).  A versus F: The effects of implicit letter priming on cognitive performance.
British Journal of Educational Psychology. 80, 99 - 119.

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Visual perception heightened by meditation training

July, 2010

Another study confirms the effects of meditation training on visual perception.

Another study showing the cognitive benefits of meditation has revealed benefits to perception and attention. The study involved 30 participants attending a three-month meditation retreat, during which they attended group sessions twice a day and engaging in individual practice for about six hours a day. The meditation practice involved sustained selective attention on a chosen stimulus (e.g., the participant’s breath). By midway through the retreat, meditators had become better at making fine visual distinctions, and better able to sustain attention during the half-hour test, compared to matched controls. Those who continued practicing meditation after the retreat still showed improvements in perception when they were retested about five months later.

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Memory better if timing is right

March, 2010

A new study suggests that our memory for visual scenes may not depend on how much attention we’ve paid to it or what a scene contains, but the context in which the scene is presented.

A new study suggests that our memory for visual scenes may not depend on how much attention we’ve paid to it or what a scene contains, but when the scene is presented. In the study, participants performed an attention-demanding letter-identification task while also viewing a rapid sequence of full-field photographs of urban and natural scenes. They were then tested on their memory of the scenes. It was found that, notwithstanding their attention had been focused on the target letter, only those scenes which were presented at the same time as a target letter (rather than a distractor letter) were reliably remembered. The results point to a brain mechanism that automatically encodes certain visual features into memory at behaviorally relevant points in time, regardless of the spatial focus of attention.

Reference: 

[321] Lin, J. Y., Pype A. D., Murray S. O., & Boynton G. M.
(2010).  Enhanced Memory for Scenes Presented at Behaviorally Relevant Points in Time.
PLoS Biol. 8(3), e1000337 - e1000337.

Full text available at doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.1000337

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How mindset can improve vision

April, 2010

An intriguing set of experiments has showed how you can improve vision by manipulating mindset.

An intriguing set of experiments showing how you can improve perception by manipulating mindset found significantly improved vision when:

  • an eye chart was arranged in reverse order (the letters getting progressively larger rather than smaller);
  • participants were given eye exercises and told their eyes would improve with practice;
  • participants were told athletes have better vision, and then told to perform jumping jacks or skipping (seen as less athletic);
  • participants flew a flight simulator, compared to pretending to fly a supposedly broken simulator (pilots are believed to have good vision).

Reference: 

[158] Langer, E., Djikic M., Pirson M., Madenci A., & Donohue R.
(2010).  Believing Is Seeing.
Psychological Science. 21(5), 661 - 666.

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Low vitamin D levels associated with poorer cognition in older men

April, 2008

A study of over 3,100 older men (49-71) from across Europe has found that men with higher levels of vitamin D performed consistently better in an attention and speed of processing task. There was no difference on visual memory tasks. Although previous studies have suggested low vitamin D levels may be associated with poorer cognitive performance, findings have been inconsistent. Vitamin D is primarily synthesised from sun exposure but is also found in certain foods such as oily fish.

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