This Neuroscience News article describes recent findings published in Neuron regarding how alpha brain wave modulation can affect attention levels. The study in question discovered that subjects could use neurofeedback to decrease their alpha brain waves in one half of their brain, without being aware of how they were doing it. These reduced alpha brain waves resulted in enhanced attention in half of their visual field, and the effects were found to be persistent throughout further tests. The author of the article includes quotes from members of the research team and remains neutral throughout. The article states the possible implications of this research, particularly how it could be used to develop new treatments for attention or other neurological disorders.
This article clearly lays out the research process and manages to present the results of the experiments without any unexplained jargon, making the findings of the original article accessible to the general audience. The author does not sensationalize the results and makes sure to include what remains unknown, giving perspective to the findings.
While overall quite informative, this article does have a few shortcomings; mainly a lack of accessibility. The author’s contact information is not available, and the research paper in question is cited but is closed access. Furthermore, the article mainly cites individuals from the original research paper rather than providing us with multiple perspectives. This makes it more challenging to eliminate the possibility of bias in the article.
Despite avoiding sensationalist language, there is a slight problem with the use of the word “controlling” in the title. The participants in the study did manage to increase their attention levels, but the article states that they did not know how they achieved this. This does not exactly constitute a clear mechanism of control, at least for now.
This article talks about how researchers at MIT have recently performed a study to understand how a causal relationship exists between the attention of a human brain and the intensity of alpha waves in the parietal cortex. Alpha waves are produced from the collective electrical oscillations produced by the billions of neurons working inside our brains. Their frequencies are in the range of 8 to 12 Hz. It has long been believed (through correlations) that they play a role in filtering out distracting sensory information while being attentive towards a task of interest. Ex. When you are reading the words off a book, you hardly notice how your legs are moving or how many times you are blinking your eyes in a minute. Prof. Desimone and his colleagues did a study to find out if there was a ‘causal’ relation between the increase in attention due to a decrease in alpha waves in the parietal cortex.
The news story has been articulated well with little jargon and unnecessary metaphorical statements. It is concise and conveys the information present in the original study in a manner easily understandable by a general audience. It explains the multiple experiments did by the team to arrive the conclusion of having observed a causal relationship between the two. It also suggests that based on the opinions of people involved in the study, it might be possible to enhance a person’s attention by using such similar neurofeedback methods. Although, there is much ground to be explored before such an undertaking can be materialized as the human brain is a very complex organ and a large number of permutations of experiments and data have to be conducted and collected to develop such a system.
One modification that could have made the article even better: The image depicting the human brain showing colored regions in both the hemispheres is not captioned with a clear explanation of what it represents.
Overall, the article conveys the crux of the original study in a nice way although with a fancy, but perhaps a bit misleading, title. When people read the title, they might assume that one might be able to control ‘brain-waves’ using an external apparatus of some sort and thereby increase the attention span. On the contrary, the study explains how humans have found a way to suppress alpha wave intensity (an innate mechanism) whenever there is an increase in attention towards a visual task.
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