You know the sensation. Everything seems crystal clear. When something has your full focused attention you see it vividly. Even colors are brighter, and your vision seems to shift into a new realm. The mystery of how focused attention improves the perception of incoming sensory stimulation has long been a question for scientists.
In a Northwestern University study, EEG measures of brain activity were used to study how attention alters brain activity. The team of psychologists and neuroscientists used a new strategy for understanding the mechanisms whereby sustained attention and a focused brain makes us process things more effectively, literally making the world come into sharper focus.
They discovered that “when you pay focused attention cells aren’t only responding more strongly to stimuli,” said study co-author Marcia Grabowecky. “Rather a population of cells is responding more coherently. It is almost like a conductor stepping in to control a large set of unruly musicians in an orchestra so that they all play together. Cells synchronize precisely to the conductor’s cues.”