Are You Listening To Me?! Measuring Covert Attention
The person you’re speaking with may be looking at you, but are they really paying attention” Or has the person covertly shifted their attention, without moving their eyes” Dr. Brian Corneil, of the Centre for Brain and Mind at The University of Western Ontario in London, Canada has found a way of actually measuring covert attention.
“Our results demonstrate for the first time that covert attention can be measured in real-time via recordings of muscle activity in the neck,” says Corneil, an assistant professor of physiology & pharmacology and psychology. “This finding may fundamentally change how attention is measured, grounding it in an objective and straightforward technique.”
Until now, measuring attention was based on indirect measures of changes in reaction time, or stimulus detection. In furthering our understanding of how the brain works, Corneil has discovered that neck muscles are recruited during covert orienting, even in the absence of eye movements. This finding could help in assessing the effectiveness of therapies for stroke or other neurodegenerative disorders such as Parkinson’s disease.
Nature Neuroscience 11, 13 – 15 (2007) Published online: 2 December 2007 doi:10.1038/nn2023
Neuromuscular consequences of reflexive covert orienting
Brian D Corneil1,2,5, Douglas P Munoz3,5, Brendan B Chapman2, Tania Admans1 & Sharon L Cushing4
Visual stimulus presentation activates the oculomotor network without requiring a gaze shift. Here, we demonstrate that primate neck muscles are recruited during such reflexive covert orienting in a manner that parallels activity recorded from the superior colliculus (SC). Our results indicate the presence of a brainstem circuit whereby reflexive covert orienting is prevented from shifting gaze, but recruits neck muscles, predicting that similarities between SC and neck muscle activity should extend to other cognitive processes that are known to influence SC activity.
1. Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) Group on Action and Perception, Departments of Physiology & Pharmacology, and Psychology, London, Ontario N6A 5C1, Canada.
2. Graduate Program in Neuroscience, University of Western Ontario, London, Ontario N6A 5C1, Canada.
3. CIHR Group in Sensory-Motor Systems, Centre for Neuroscience Studies, Departments of Physiology, Psychology and Medicine, Queen’s University, Kingston, Ontario K7L 3N6, Canada.
4. Department of Otolaryngology Head and Neck Surgery, University of Toronto, 190 Elizabeth Street, Room 3S438, Fraser Elliot Building, Toronto, Ontario M5G 2N2, Canada.
5. These authors contributed equally to this work.