Public Release:  A real attention grabber

Scientist finds way to measure covert attention

University of Western Ontario

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. His research "Neuromuscular consequences of reflexive covert orienting" is posted on the Advance Online Publication of "Nature Neuroscience".

"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.

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The study was conducted in collaboration with researchers at Queen's University and the University of Toronto, with funding from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) and the Human Frontier Science Program. Corneil is a CIHR New Investigator, and a member of the CIHR Group in Action and Perception.

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