Disruptive sounds help aging brain ignore distractions
As we age, we have an increasingly harder time ignoring distractions. But by learning to discriminate a sound amidst progressively more disruptive distractions, we can diminish our distractibility, new research in Cell Press journal Neuron reveals. A similar strategy might also help children with attention deficits or individuals with other mental challenges.
Distractibility (the inability to sustain focus on a goal due to attention to irrelevant stimuli) can have a negative effect on basic daily activities, and is a hallmark of the aging mind. Where were we? Oh, right, the research.
To address the problem, a team led by researchers at the University of California, San Francisco used sounds at various frequencies as targets along with distractors, with the goal of having trainees focus on the target frequencies while ignoring the distractor frequencies.
In both aged rats and older humans, trainees learned to identify the target tone in each training session through reinforcement feedback, and then they had to continue to correctly identify that target tone amidst progressively more challenging distractor frequencies.
In both rats and humans, training led to diminished distraction-related errors, and trainees’ memory and attention spans improved. Also, electrophysiological brain recordings in both rats and humans revealed that neural responses to distractors were reduced.
“We show that by learning to discriminate amidst progressively more challenging distractions, we can diminish distractibility in rat and human brains,” says lead author Dr. Jyoti Mishra.