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May 31, 2005
MIT Finds Waldo in Your Brain
"Attention is a general problem for the brain, and maybe it has a general solution," according to a new study, published in a recent issue of Science, that addresses a central question that anyone who has tackled a "Where's Waldo?" book can appreciate. When looking for Waldo on the crowded page, does the brain scan the page spatially, like a mental spotlight moving across an otherwise dark page? Or does the brain take in the whole page at once and gradually zoom in on relevant features such as color and shape?"
Using the visual system as a model, Professor Robert Desimone, director of the McGovern Institute for Brain Research at MIT, and colleagues report that neurons synchronize their signals to command attention, like a chorus rising above the din of noisy chatter in a crowded room. "We think that synchronizing signals could be a general way the brain focuses on what's important," says Desimone, who also holds an appointment through MIT's Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences.
"If timing is important for visual attention and this is the way the brain focuses," reflects Desimone, "that exploration might open up whole new domains for understanding and possibly treating attention disorders, which are common in mental illnesses, including ADHD and even schizophrenia."
This line of reasoning seems right on target to me. Now comes the hard part of translating this basic research in the better tools for mental illness.
NOTE: Italicized paragraphs directly from MIT press releases.
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