Learn about the distractability study funded by the Marie Skłdowska-Curie programme

by Aurelia Chaise

Scientists are working to find out how our brain controls attention so as to be able to train people to resist distraction. In the Horizon magazine, Gary Finnegan highlights the most relevant aspects of this study funded by the Marie Skłdowska-Curie programme.

In-brain electrodes and memory tests taken under stressful conditions are revealing how our brains control attention, which could lead to new strategies for reducing distraction and help pupils to learn more effectively.

'There is a war in our brains,' says neuroscientist Dr Jean-Philippe Lachaux, Research Director at the French National Health Research Institute (INSERM) in Lyon, France. 'It is a competition between the habit system which allocates attention based on fixed rules and experience; the reward system; and the executive system mainly located in the frontal lobe.'

Between them, these systems combine to produce a priority map. If you want to concentrate on writing a report, doing a puzzle, having a conversation or reading a long article, you want your executive system to win the war.

But with so much external stimulation – from smart phones and noisy ringtones to TV shows and eye-catching billboards – it can be difficult to focus on your task.

Dr Lachaux, who is the lead researcher on the Distractibility study, funded by the EU's Marie Skłdowska-Curie programme for researchers, wants to figure out which tiny neural networks within these brain systems react when we are distracted. A deeper understanding of what is going on when we lose concentration could help neuroscientists to train people to resist distraction.

Much of the work in this area has been on 'zoning out' or mind-wandering. What Dr Lachaux and his team are interested in is 'micro mind-wandering': those brief flickers of distraction we experience when someone else's phone rings while we are doing a crossword puzzle.

Read the whole article here.


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