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Understanding attention has wide implications

The Centre research program addressing Attention comprises multiple projects, each crossing more than one research theme.

In a complex environment, we prioritise certain objects and actions at the expense of others. Likewise, sudden or unexpected stimuli (e.g. an approaching car) can capture attention during an ongoing task (crossing the street). Attention therefore has two main aspects: an experience and state dependent (‘top-down’) component for filtering complex information, and a stimulus driven (‘bottom-up’) component that captures attention when there is an unexpected or salient change in the environment.

Understanding the brain mechanisms underlying attention is of obvious importance, with implications for many areas including education, driving, surveillance, and workplace safety. We know that when attention is focused on part of the visual world (e.g. when reading this text) there is increased activity in visual centres, where cells show enhanced electrical and biochemical activity, and responses synchronise. We also know that these changes depend on neural commands interchanged between brain areas with ‘executive’ functions (in the parietal and frontal lobes), and those involved in sensory processing and motor control.