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The Brain’s Anti-Distraction Mechanism

anti-distraction mechanismSimon Fraser University researchers have discovered the brain’s anti-distraction mechanism.[1] Environmental and genetic factors may hinder or suppress a particular brain activity that helps prevent us from distraction—a discovery that may revolutionize doctors’ perception and treatment of attention-deficit disorders.1 This study is the first to reveal that our brains rely on an active suppression mechanism to avoid being distracted by irrelevant information while we focus on a particular thing.1

While associate professor of psychology and Canada Research Chair in Cognitive Neuroscience, John McDonald, PhD, and colleagues first discovered the existence of the anti-distraction mechanism in 2009, it was still unknown how it helps us to ignore visual distractions.1

This current study involved three experiments in which 47 students (average age of 21) performed an attention-demanding visual search task.1 The researchers studied their neural processes related to attention, distraction, and suppression by recording electrical brain signals from sensors that were embedded in a cap.1

“This is an important discovery for neuroscientists and psychologists because the most contemporary ideas of attention highlight brain processes that are involved in picking our relevant objects from the visual field. It’s like finding Waldo in a Where’s Waldo illustration,” said John Gaspar, the study’s lead author.1

As our society is now technology-driven and fast-paced, researchers believe their discovery can help scientists and clinicians treat patients with distraction-related attention deficits better.1

“Distraction is a leading cause of injury and death in driving and other high-stakes environments,” noted senior author McDonald. “There are individual differences in the ability to deal with distraction. New electronic products are designed to grab attention. Suppressing such signals take effort, and some people can’t seem to do it. Moreover, disorders associated with attention deficits, such as ADHD and schizophrenia, may turn out to be due to difficulties in suppressing irrelevant objects rather than difficulty selecting relative ones.”1

Currently, the researchers are studying how we deal with distraction, investigating when and why we cannot suppress potentially distracting objects, as well as why some are better at this than others.1

“There’s evidence that attentional abilities decline with age and that women are better than men at certain visual attentional tasks,” said Gaspar.1



[1] Pedersen, T. (2014). Scientists Pinpoint Brain’s Anti-Distraction Mechanism. Psych Central. Retrieved on April 21, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/news/2014/04/20/scientists-pinpoint-brains-anti-distraction-mechanism/68771.html

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