Alpha waves organize a to-do list for the brain

May 23, 2014
Alpha waves organize a to-do list for the brain
Different phases of the alpha wave encode for different parts of the visual scene.

Alpha waves appear to be even more active and important than neuroscientist Ole Jensen (Radboud University) already thought. He postulates a new theory on how the alpha wave controls attention to visual signals. His theory is published in Trends in Neurosciences on May 20.

In his search to understand the role and function of waves, neuroscientist Ole Jensen (Radboud University) postulates a new on how the alpha wave controls attention to visual signals. His theory is published in Trends in Neurosciences on May 20. Alpha waves appear to be even more active and important than Jensen already thought.

Our brain cells 'spark' all the time. From this electronic activity brain waves emerge: oscillations at different band widths. And like a radio station uses different frequencies to carry specific information far away from the emitting source, so does the brain. And just like radio listeners with a certain musical preference tune in to the frequency that carries the music they prefer, brain area's tune into the wave length relevant for their functioning.

Alpha waves aren't boring

Ole Jensen, professor of Neuronal Oscillations at Radboud University's Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition and Behaviour, tries to figure out how this network of sending and receiving information through oscillations works in detail. Earlier he discovered a novel role of the alpha wave that was long thought to be a boring wave, emerging when the brain runs idle and a person is dozing off. Jensen shifted this interpretation by showing the importance of the alpha frequency: it helps to shut down irrelevant brain area's for a certain task. It helps us concentrate on what is really important at that moment.

To do list

In the Trends in Neurosciences paper that appeared today, Jensen postulates a new theory for how this actually works given a visual task. 'We think that different phases of the alpha wave encode for different parts of a visual scene. It helps breaking down the visual information into small jobs and then perform those tasks in a specific order. A to do list for your visual attention system: focus on the face, focus on the hand, focus on the glass, look around. And then all over again.'

Jensen is now planning to test this new interpretation of the alpha wave in both animals and humans.

Explore further: Alpha wave blocks your mind for distraction, but not continuously

More information: Ole Jensen, Bart Gips, Til Ole Bergmann, Mathilde Bonnefond, "Temporal coding organized by coupled alpha and gamma oscillations prioritize visual processing," Trends in Neurosciences, Available online 14 May 2014, ISSN 0166-2236, dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.tins.2014.04.001.

Related Stories

Controlling brain waves to improve vision

April 24, 2014

Have you ever accidentally missed a red light or a stop sign? Or have you heard someone mention a visible event that you passed by but totally missed seeing?

Protein researches closing in on the mystery of schizophrenia

April 11, 2014

(Medical Xpress)—Schizophrenia is a severe disease for which there is still no effective medical treatment. In an attempt to understand exactly what happens in the brain of a schizophrenic person, researchers from the University ...

Recommended for you

Transplanted interneurons can help reduce fear in mice

December 8, 2016

The expression "once bitten, twice shy" is an illustration of how a bad experience can induce fear and caution. How to effectively reduce the memory of aversive events is a fundamental question in neuroscience. Scientists ...

Honeybee memories: Another piece of the Alzheimer's puzzle?

December 8, 2016

A breakdown of memory processes in humans can lead to conditions such as Alzheimer's and dementia. By looking at the simpler brain of a honeybee, new research published in Frontiers in Molecular Neuroscience, moves us a step ...

Brain activity may predict risk of falls in older people

December 7, 2016

Measuring the brain activity of healthy, older adults while they walk and talk at the same time may help predict their risk of falls later, according to a study published in the December 7, 2016, online issue of Neurology.

Knowing one's place in a social hierarchy

December 7, 2016

When you start a new job, it's normal to spend the first day working out who's who in the pecking order, information that will come in handy for making useful connections in the future. In an fMRI study published December ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.