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Science Says You Can Train Yourself To Be More Focused

What you need to know about "neurofeedback" to channel your concentration when you need it.

fizkes / Shutterstock
fizkes / Shutterstock

Do you find yourself struggling with paying attention? We’ve all be in that situation and a new study just may have found the answers that you are looking for: turning down your alpha brain waves. Yes, the researchers found that people can be more focused on daily tasks by controlling their own alpha brain waves based on neurofeedback they receive as they perform a particular task.

“There’s a lot of interest in using neurofeedback to try to help people with various brain disorders and behavioral problems,” says Robert Desimone, director of MIT’s McGovern Institute for Brain Research. “It’s a completely noninvasive way of controlling and testing the role of different types of brain activity.”

The findings showed that whenever people involved were able to teach themselves to suppress alpha waves in one hemisphere of their parietal cortex, they were able to pay better attention to objects that appeared on the opposite side of their visual field. This study is the first time that that cause-and-effect relationship has been seen, suggesting that control over this action is possible. 

Sound complicated? It kinda is, but here’s how it works: there are billions of neurons in the brain, and their combined electrical signals generate oscillations, which are known as brain waves. Then there comes the alpha waves, which oscillate in the frequency of 8 to 12 hertz. These are the ones believes to help when trying to filter out distracting sensory information.

“After the experiment, the subjects said they knew that they were controlling the contrast, but they didn’t know how they did it,” said McGovern Institute postdoc Yasaman Bagherzadeh, the lead author of the study.

“We think the basis is conditional learning—whenever you do a behavior and you receive a reward, you’re reinforcing that behavior. People usually don’t have any feedback on their brain activity, but when we provide it to them and reward them, they learn by practicing.”

Even though the study participants were unsure as to know they were actually manipulating their brain waves, they were able to do it. The success from this meant that they had enhanced attention on the opposite side of the visual field. The participants  looked at the pattern in the center of the screen, the researchers flashed dots of light on either side of the screen. The participants had been told to ignore these flashes, however the researchers did measure how their visual cortex responded to them.

Furthermore, each group was trained to suppress the alpha waves on opposite sides of the brain.  In those who had reduced alpha on the left side, their visual cortex showed a larger response to flashes of light on the right side of the screen, and vise versa.

Being able to control our concentration during the day would open so many doors!

Originally published on Moms.

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