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Brain waves churn differently when paying attention

Electrical activity in the brain is permeated with patterns that look like noise, and are not associated with reactions to any particular stimuli. Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Assistant Professor Tatiana Engel and her collaborators found that there is structure in the noise that could reveal the state of attentiveness in the brain. This video shows a model of brain activity in the monkey visual cortex. The overall electrical activity was measured over time in each small area. Yellow and orange areas have high activity and blue areas have low activity, corresponding to “On” and “Off” states for a set of neurons. Researchers showed a monkey images across its entire field of vision, but like most of us, the animal paid attention (attended) to only a small part of that field. With the help of this model, the researchers found, that while waves of activity pass over the whole visual cortex, these waves were slower and choppier in the area corresponding to the attended part of the visual field. The researchers think that the wave patterns provide an important clue to understanding sleep, anesthesia, and attention.

This video was provided by Yan-Liang Shi, a postdoc in the Engel lab.