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  • Periodic Report Summary 1 - ATTENTIONBCI (Linking Brain Activity to Selective Attention at a “Cocktail Party”: Enhancing Performance through Top-Down Modulation of Sensory Processing)

Periodic Report Summary 1 - ATTENTIONBCI (Linking Brain Activity to Selective Attention at a “Cocktail Party”: Enhancing Performance through Top-Down Modulation of Sensory Processing)

The ability to selectively pay attention to a particular stream of input in the environment and to ignore competing irrelevant sounds is of utmost importance in daily life. Yet, to date much remains unknown about the neural basis underlying this important capacity. Moreover, performance on this important cognitive task varies greatly across individuals and under different environmental conditions, and attention is also known to ‘wander’ and fluctuate over time.

The broad objective of this project is to link neural activity to behavioral performance on challenging selective attention tasks, and to understanding the factors underlying variability in selective attention performance across individuals. Using non-invasive neurophysiological recordings in humans, I will test the hypothesis that top-down modulation of sensory processing is directly linked to selective attention performance and can explain variability in performance across individuals, stimulus-conditions and over time.

During the first two-years of the project substantial progress has been made towards addressing the key research questions put forth for this project. Specifically, behavioral and neural data has been collected from ~100 individuals on a variety of Selective Attention tasks, in which we parametrically changed task difficulty along different stimulus dimensions. The results have been extremely informative as to which factors make stimuli easier/hard to pay attention to in a noisy environment. For example, we repeatedly find that individuals can attend better if sequences of sounds are rhythmic, and most individual require a pitch difference of at least 5% between attended and unattended sounds in order to pay attention properly. We use these data to also evaluate the variability across between individuals – at both the behavioral and neural levels – and observe vast differences across participants (see Figure 1). These differences are the sources great interest and relevance for the objectives of the project, as a main goal for the next stage of the project is to develop training regimes in order to help individuals improve their attentional capacities.

The next two-years of the project will be devoted to fully characterizing the neural signature associated with high vs. low success-rate on our selective attention tasks, and to use this signature for developing a neuro-feedback training protocol for the improvement of selective attention. During the next phase we will also explicitly target specific populations with attentional deficits (primarily individuals with ADHD), in order to fully gauge the spectrum of abilities and test their capacity for improvement under our neurofeedback regime. Results of the ensuing research are expected to produce a much broader understanding of the behavioral variability in attentional capacities, and the neural mechanisms underlying this important faculty. In addition, we hope to provide a useful tool for advancing and improving attentional abilities, which may have important clinical applications in the future.

Besides the scientific advances of the past two years, during this period the PI has established her laboratory within the Gonda Brain Research Center at Bar Ilan University. The lab is now fully active and productive, and currently consists of one post-doc, four PhD students and two MSc students. The PI has been successful in securing additional grants for funding research in the lab, and has produced several new publications, with several more currently under review. As such, the CIG funding has been extremely helpful in getting the lab ‘off the ground’, and in re-integrating the PI into her new research environment.

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Life Sciences
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