Real-time monitoring of brain activity can be used to enhance attention, reports a study published online this week in Nature Neuroscience. The results could have important implications in occupational, educational, and clinical settings.
Drifts in attention occur often in our daily lives, and these lapses can lead to lost productivity and accidents. Nicholas Turk-Browne and colleagues examined whether training with neurofeedback (information about the brain’s current state) could be used to improve participants’ performance in an attention-demanding task. The authors used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to monitor participants’ neural activity for signs of lapsed attention during a visual discrimination task where participants were shown composite pictures of superimposed faces and scenes, and asked to focus on one or the other. When real-time monitoring of neural activity indicated that a participant’s attention had drifted, the task was made more difficult. The authors found that the participants used this feedback to improve their performance after only one training session.
This study suggests that a person’s neural activity, particularly from brain regions linked to attention, can be converted into useful feedback signals to help maintain focus and improve performance in situations that demand attention.