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How the Brain Slows Down When We Focus Our Gaze

Published in Brain/Neurology.

A new study reveals that the brain can switch between slow and fast integration of information, allowing it to modulate the timescales on which it operates. The study also provides insight into how the structure of neural networks determines the speed at which information is integrated, which may have implications for future research on brain function and cognitive processes.

Source: Max Planck Institute

Changing between slow and fast integration of information, the brain can flexibly modulate the timescales on which it operates.

This is the result of a new study by an international team of researchers, now published in the journal Nature Communications.

Their analysis of experimental data from the visual cortex and their computer simulations also provide an explanation for how different timescales can arise and how they can change: the structure of the neural networks determines how fast or slow information is integrated.

Different processes in the brain happen on different timescales: While sensory input can be handled within tens of milliseconds, decision making or other complex cognitive processes may require integrating information over up to several minutes. Correspondingly, some areas in the brain are faster-paced than others.

These intrinsic timescales are not rigid and invariable. However, so far little was known about how they can adapt to different situations and tasks.

A team of researchers from Tübingen, Princeton, Stanford, Newcastle, and Washington has now investigated how the timescale of a brain area can vary during task execution.

Specifically, they asked: when a subject focuses their visual attention or redirects it to a specific point in space, how does that change the timescale of neural activity in the corresponding brain area?