As a child I used to love playing the “Eye Spy” game along with all the associated guessing and frustrations of not getting the right answer. It’s a great game to build awareness of what is around us in our environment because when you are “it” and get to choose the next item for others to guess, whatever your eye is drawn too won’t necessarily of course be the same for everyone else.
But how much of our environment, do we really take in with our eyes? The assumption is that because we have our eyes open and we are awake that we see it all. Of course that’s not actually the case and there are some great experiments that demonstrates just how selective our visual field really is and how much we miss, all the time.
“I saw it out the corner of my eye.” is the phrase we commonly use to imply we spotted something relevant that we weren’t actually focussed on at the time. This of course is a great survival tool. You might be focussed on looking at a really pretty girl whom you would like to take out on a date, but then you notice the silhouette of her boyfriend approaching from the side.
Our perception of our world very much depends on our ability to pay attention. But how attention modulates our neurons to guide our resultant behaviour hasn’t really been understood.
Research recently published in Nature reveals how attention enhances neuronal communication at the level of the synapse to enable us to pick up salient information in an otherwise noisy sensory environment.
However in our distraction ridden world this implies that as our ability to pay attention is reduced we are losing our ability to pick up all the relevant clues we need from our environment. In other words we no longer see the BIG picture.
It’s time to take back control, pay better attention and start noticing again ALL that we wish to see.
Farran Briggs, George R. Mangun & W. Martin Usrey (2013) Attention enhances synaptic efficacy and the signal-to-noise ratio in neural circuits Nature doi: 10.1038/nature12276