Published on October 3rd, 2014 | by Rahel Bailie0
Filtering Extraneous Information
The human brain has the amazing ability to filter out unwanted stimuli. Any of you who have watched the clip about the basketball players know how powerful that filtering ability is. If you haven’t watched the clip, here’s your chance.
What is the mechanism behind this phenomenon, and how does it affect us as digital professionals?
According to study researcher Julio Martinez-Trujillo, of McGill University in Montreal, the brain doesn’t have enough capacity to process all the information that is coming into your senses.” There are some neurons in the prefrontal cortex which have the ability to suppress information that a person considers to be extraneous at the time. This is a filtering mechanism. He goes on to say that humans are constantly taking in considerable streams of data from each of our senses. The human brain has the ability to filter only the most important signals (like “ouch, burning!” or “ooh, shiny!”). Without this ability, people would suffer from sensory overload, with all stimuli competing for attention.
How the brain filters out unwanted stimuli is an interesting process, and understanding the filtering process also helps us understand how to better communicate, not only in a verbal medium, but also online.
When we are receiving a “firehose” of information from our various senses, our brains compensate by filtering those signals. According to the study’s co-author, Farran Briggs, Ph.D, the synaptic connections, where nerve cells meet, allow sharpening of the precision of the signals, and selectively boost the transmission of attention-grabbing information while reducing the level of noisy or attention-disrupting information.
The results point to a mechanism by which attention shapes perception. This happens by the brain selectively altering presynaptic weights to highlight sensory features among all the noisy sensory input.