How we tune out distractions: Neuroscientists trace a brain circuit that filters unwanted sensory input
Imagine trying to focus on a friend’s voice at a noisy party, or blocking out the phone conversation of the person sitting next to you on the bus while you try to read. Both of these tasks require your brain to somehow suppress the distracting signal so you can focus on your chosen input.
MIT neuroscientists have now identified a brain circuit that helps us to do just that. The circuit they identified, which is controlled by the prefrontal cortex, filters out unwanted background noise or other distracting sensory stimuli. When this circuit is engaged, the prefrontal cortex selectively suppresses sensory input as it flows into the thalamus, the site where most sensory information enters the brain.
“This is a fundamental operation that cleans up all the signals that come in, in a goal-directed way,” says Michael Halassa, an assistant professor of brain and cognitive sciences, a member of MIT’s McGovern Institute for Brain Research, and the senior author of the study. (More)