DC Science Cafe: “Pay Attention! A neuroscientist ponders what it takes to stay on task”
There you are in the supermarket tracking down the ingredients for making your famous chocolate-bottomed crème brulee when your cell phone rings and stops you in your tracks. There are two kinds of attention at work here. Your active search for specific ingredients among the multitude of products in the supermarket unfolds by way of a voluntarygoal-directed—top-down—attentional system. When your cell phone rings, however, a stimulus-driven—bottom-up—attention-grabbing system butts in. Without a fine balance between these two attentional system, you would vacillate during the day between a kind of “tunnel vision” and a complete inability to focus on anything. And even as you do that balancing act, you still are totally unaware of the vast majority of stimuli relentlessly coming your way. To attend to anything is to simultaneously ignore mostly everything else. How do we do that! Join a discussion with George Washington University neuroscientist Sarah Shomstein who has laser-focused her own scientific attention on how human beings manage to attend to anything at all amidst what otherwise would be an utter sensory cacophony of visual, aural, tactile, olfactory, gustatory and other internal and external stimuli.
Mark your calendar this instant. I look forward to seeing you at the next DC Science Cafe!
Brought to you with support from DC Science Writers Association.
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