Focus and Distraction

Human Brain Evolution
Image by hawkexpress via Flickr

In a new study to appear in in Neuron, scientists have uncovered mechanisms that help our brain to focus by routing only relevant information to perceptual brain regions…and on how this focus can be disrupted, suggesting new ways of presenting information that augment the brain’s natural focal capabilities.

“Focus on what I am about to tell you!”, the report begins:


Our complex modern world is filled with so many – flashing images on a television screen, blinking lights, blaring horns – that our ability to concentrate on one thing at a time is of critical importance. How does our brain achieve this ability to focus attention?

The answer is believed to lie in two distinct processes, referred to as “sensitivity enhancement” and “efficient selection”.

A more detailed report can be found at:


3 thoughts on “Focus and Distraction

  1. I read this article, and you know what I’m thinking? This study doesn’t really offer any new information in terms of sensory integration and learning styles. They are closely linked in terms of attention, cognition, and learning. The only thing this study really does is aims to clarify what is the most typical of learning styles and sensory processing. I am more interested in what the atypical response is. I feel that would prove more useful in terms of treatment.

    We know the three learning styles: auditory, visual, and kinetic. It would stand to reason that if a person leaned toward one of these categories more so than the others, then sensory information from that source would be classified as the most important when received. I am both an auditory learning and a kinetic learner. I have discovered that this is probably the result of terrible vision prior to age 3 and not consistently having corrective lenses throughout my childhood. My other senses learned to compensate for having the visual loss, like in people who suffer from blindness.

    I am the most distracted by auditory sensory information. I am one of those people that cannot listen to more than a couple of things at once. In fact, auditory stimuli takes precedence, even when the visual information is more important. I can be reading something, but if there is a distracting noise – babies crying (woman’s instinctual responses), sound is too loud in the background, or sound is too quiet in the background, it trumps everything else.

    I am also sometimes distracted by tactile stimuli. This is usually a result of symptoms from bipolar disorder and anxiety. Shoes are too tight, hair is pulled back and it doesn’t feel right, eyes are strained, etc. I can become obsessive about it. That’s why some things just have to be the way they are. But, I’d consider that to be an atypical response, mostly because it’s not consistent. It is mood dependent.

    Experts say sensory integration problems, such as the ones described above, are the reason for the significant delays that children diagnosed with ASD experience. I get it. My son’s occupational therapist helped me come to understand why. Like in this article, they described a filter. Without that filter, people would be bombarded by sensory information. According to research, that is what children and adults with ASD are faced with. It causes a huge distraction and makes learning more difficult. That could cascade into a global delay, where one of the first signs is a speech delay. If it severe enough, it could cause even more significant delays, even motor delays.

    So, again, like I said, I’m more interested in the atypical responses. What do you do when a person can resist normal stimuli? My son is impervious to some stimuli. A flashing light would probably be great for him. He has some kind of sensory dampener and seeks stimulation. But, he seems to shy away from noisy situations with a lot of people. Perhaps there is a problem when he is presented with too much spacial and / or verbal stimuli. They fall into the categories of visual and auditory learning, but they narrow the scope down a lot. Perhaps, he cannot process those, either individually or together.

    I know I have difficulty. But, my difficulty is that I have a difficult time looking and listening. One or the other. That’s why I learned to read music in a kinetic sense. I learned how to hold my instrument, how my instrument sounded, and how each note was made by different movements of my hands. It was the only way to make a global process work for me. And it did!

    1. its not that any one study advances KNOWLEDGE that much. Rather, one little mind thinks, “I wonder. Hmmm.” And one more writer says, “Let’s try that again if this one variable is changed”. And ever slowly, knowledge expands almost in spite of itself.

      Science is only occasionally rewarding. Like life.


      1. Very true. I just don’t really see what they’re trying to prove. And you hit gold with this one. Psychology, human development, and personality in the context of learning and behavior are my thing. Those topics are probably the things I know best!

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