Many Brain Cells Seek, to Help You Find

Study probes the way the mind tracks objects of interest

THURSDAY, July 19, 2007 (HealthDay News) -- Can't find those keys? A new study reveals that a surprising number of brain cells are called into action when humans seek out a particular object.

For the study, U.S. researchers used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to study participants' brain activity while they watched a computer display of objects moving in different directions.

Reporting in the July 18 online edition of Neuron, the scientists found systematic changes in brain activity whenever participants focused on a certain object in motion -- no matter where it appeared in their visual field.

"This increased activity in the brain is what helps you find objects you are looking for, even when you don't know exactly where the objects are," University of California - Irvine cognitive scientist John Serences said in a prepared statement.

The participants were asked to pay attention to objects moving only in a particular direction (e.g., to the left). The researchers demonstrated that patterns of brain activity change when people pay attention to objects moving in different directions.

Furthermore, looking for an object moving in a particular direction made the brain more responsive to other objects moving in that direction, no matter where the other objects appeared in the visual field.

The researchers hope their findings will help scientists better understand problems dealing with awareness of surroundings, such as occurs with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

"By gaining a more thorough understanding of how a healthy human brain functions, we will be better equipped in the future to recognize, diagnose and treat abnormalities within the brain," Serences explained.

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more about attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder.

SOURCE: University of California - Irvine, news release, July 18, 2007
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