Humans abound with remarkable skills: we write novels, build bridges, compose symphonies, and even navigate Boston traffic. But despite our mental prowess, we share a surprising deficit: our working memory can track only four items at one time.
“Would you buy a computer with a RAM capacity of 4?” asks David Somers, professor and chair of the Department of Psychological & Brain Sciences. “Not 4 MB or GB or 4K—just 4. So how the heck do humans do all this stuff?”
“There’s so much information out there, and our brains are very limited in what we’re able to process,” adds Samantha Michalka, a postdoctoral fellow at the Center for Computational Neuroscience & Neural Technology. “We desperately need attention to function in the world.”
Michalka is lead author and Somers is senior author of a new study that sheds light on this enduring mystery of neuroscience: how humans achieve so much with such limited attention. Funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the work identifies a previously unknown attention network in the brain. It also reveals that our working memory for space and time can recruit our extraordinary visual and auditory processing networks when needed. The research appeared on August 19, 2015, in the journal Neuron.
Prior to this work, scientists believed that visual information from the eyes and auditory information from the ears merged before reaching the frontal lobes, where abstract thought occurs. The team of BU scientists, which also included Auditory Neuroscience Laboratory Director Barbara Shinn-Cunningham, performed functional MRI experiments to test the conventional wisdom. The experiments revealed that what was thought to be one large attention network in the frontal lobe is actually two interleaved attention networks, one supporting vision and one supporting hearing. “So instead of talking about a single attention network,” says Somers, “we now need to talk about a visual attention network and an auditory attention network that work together.”
A procedure that treats depression by using electrodes implanted deep in the brain won’t be available to the public soon, says the researcher who pioneered the procedure more than a decade ago with a team at the University of Toronto.
A few neurologists and brain scientists are proposing that the secret underlying all conscious activity must lie with the way cells respond to stimuli they receive from their environment. In a response to this suggestion, Christof Koch asserts that much more is required for a full theory of consciousness
There has been a recent discovery that may lead to a complete revision of biology textbooks. It has been found that there is a link between the brain and the immune system. Scientists have discovered vessels of the lymphatic system that run through the sinuses, which were previously unidentified
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