Monday, April 21, 2014

ADHD: Scientists Discover Brain's Anti-Distraction System

In 2009 researchers at Simon Fraser University discovered a system in the brain that helps us ignore irrelevant information - "the specific neural index of suppression". Now their research suggests that the problem in disorders such as ADHD is that the "filter" or "anti-distraction system" is not functioning optimally due to either environmental factors (my pick) and/or genetic factors.

For the sake of argument (in favor of the environmental piece), let's look at what we are doing to our children. Here is an image I found online within seconds.


This kid has more toys hanging from his stroller than s/he can possibly focus on.

Or check out this car seat thing for kids - what ever happened to staring out the window and daydreaming?


All the color and movement are training the kid's very neuroplastic brain NOT to focus on one thing at a time. By the time s/he is three or four, the kid will be walking around with a handheld game with lots of color, flashing images, and sounds. This does not even include television.

We are shaping the brains of our children to be ADHD brains. Too much stimulation is as bad for children as too little, but in different ways.

ADHD: Scientists Discover Brain's Anti-Distraction System

Date: April 18, 2014
Source: Simon Fraser University
Summary:
Psychologists have made a brain-related discovery that could revolutionize doctors' perception and treatment of attention-deficit disorders. This discovery opens up the possibility that environmental and/or genetic factors may hinder or suppress a specific brain activity that the researchers have identified as helping us prevent distraction.

Psychologists have made a brain-related discovery that could revolutionize doctors' perception and treatment of attention-deficit disorders. Credit: © Feng Yu / Fotolia

Two Simon Fraser University psychologists have made a brain-related discovery that could revolutionize doctors' perception and treatment of attention-deficit disorders.

This discovery opens up the possibility that environmental and/or genetic factors may hinder or suppress a specific brain activity that the researchers have identified as helping us prevent distraction.

The Journal of Neuroscience has just published a paper about the discovery by John McDonald, an associate professor of psychology and his doctoral student John Gaspar, who made the discovery during his master's thesis research.

This is the first study to reveal our brains rely on an active suppression mechanism to avoid being distracted by salient irrelevant information when we want to focus on a particular item or task.

McDonald, a Canada Research Chair in Cognitive Neuroscience, and other scientists first discovered the existence of the specific neural index of suppression in his lab in 2009. But, until now, little was known about how it helps us ignore visual distractions.

"This is an important discovery for neuroscientists and psychologists because most contemporary ideas of attention highlight brain processes that are involved in picking out relevant objects from the visual field. It's like finding Waldo in a Where's Waldo illustration," says Gaspar, the study's lead author.

"Our results show clearly that this is only one part of the equation and that active suppression of the irrelevant objects is another important part."

Given the proliferation of distracting consumer devices in our technology-driven, fast-paced society, the psychologists say their discovery could help scientists and health care professionals better treat individuals with distraction-related attentional deficits.

"Distraction is a leading cause of injury and death in driving and other high-stakes environments," notes McDonald, the study's senior author. "There are individual differences in the ability to deal with distraction. New electronic products are designed to grab attention. Suppressing such signals takes effort, and sometimes people can't seem to do it.

"Moreover, disorders associated with attention deficits, such as ADHD and schizophrenia, may turn out to be due to difficulties in suppressing irrelevant objects rather than difficulty selecting relevant ones."

The researchers are now turning their attention to understanding how we deal with distraction. They're looking at when and why we can't suppress potentially distracting objects, whether some of us are better at doing so and why that is the case.

"There's evidence that attentional abilities decline with age and that women are better than men at certain visual attentional tasks," says Gaspar, the study's first author.

The study was based on three experiments in which 47 students performed an attention-demanding visual search task. Their mean age was 21. The researchers studied their neural processes related to attention, distraction and suppression by recording electrical brain signals from sensors embedded in a cap they wore.

Story Source:
The above story is based on materials provided by Simon Fraser University. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

Journal Reference:
J. M. Gaspar, J. J. McDonald. (2014). Suppression of Salient Objects Prevents Distraction in Visual Search. Journal of Neuroscience; 34 (16): 5658 DOI: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.4161-13.2014

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