Enhancing attention through working memory: functional neuroimaging and translational applications

Lead Research Organisation: Imperial College London
Department Name: Dept of Medicine

Abstract

Imagine yourself walking in the street and thinking of an old friend that currently you miss very much. Suddenly, a man in the crowd captures your eyes. Then, you realize that he looks very much like your friend in your current thoughts. This example shows that our attention can be automatically attracted by a stimulus matching the contents actively held in our working memory (WM). The proposed project builds up on my recent work where I have delineated for the first time (i) the factors that influence the effect of WM on the deployment of attention and (ii) the areas in the brain that may be critical. However, it remains to be established which particular brain regions are indeed crucial and necessary for attentional guidance from WM and what may be their specific functional contribution. The project is relevant with regard to attentional impairments following brain damage (i.e. after stroke). The proposed project will uncover these issues. I will use novel approaches that combine computerised visual attention tasks, brain imaging and brain stimulation techniques, in order to specify the brain circuits that are critical in guiding attention from the contents of WM. I will also apply the research into clinical settings. I aim to show that attentional impairments in neurological patients can be improved by training in WM capabilities. The outcome of the project will provide important insights to understand the brain circuits that support the guidance of attention by WM in the healthy brain, how they relate to impairments of attention and awareness in the injured brain and how these cognitive impairments can be influenced by WM training and the manipulation of the contents of WM. The project will pose interesting clinical applications to rehabilitate impairments of attention in a wide range of neurological patients.

Technical Summary

Attentional mechanisms are crucial to allow the organism to select information that is relevant for our immediate goals and actions, whilst also ignoring other information that is irrelevant. Recent research indicates that visual selection can be strongly modulated by the process of actively retaining information in memory (Working Memory: WM). Imagine yourself walking in the street and thinking of an old friend that currently you miss very much. Suddenly, a man in the crowd captures your eyes. Then, you realize that he looks very much like your friend in your current thoughts. This example illustrates how the deployment of visual attention can be automatically captured by stimulus matching the contents of WM. The proposed project builds up on my recent work where I delineated, for the first time, the behavioural characteristics of this phenomenon and its neural correlates (see Soto et al., 2008, Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 12, 342-348, for a review). However, the functional nature of the neural systems that play a causal and necessary role in guiding attention from the contents of WM remains poorly understood. Moreover, the implications of research in this area for the wide range of neurological patients with attention deficits remain to be established. Here, I aim to uncover these issues. In the proposed project, I will use a combination of novel behavioral paradigms, neuroimaging and brain stimulation protocols in order to specify the functional brain architecture supporting WM-based guidance of visual selection. I will also translate the research into clinical settings. I aim to show that attentional impairments in neurological patients can be improved by training in WM capabilities. The outcome of the project will provide important insights into the brain circuits supporting attentional guidance by WM in the healthy brain, how they relate to impairments of attention and awareness in the injured brain and how these cognitive impairments can be influenced by WM training and the manipulation of the contents of WM, posing important new applications for translational research.

Publications


10 25 50
 
Description Visiting Scholar Grant
Amount £7,500 (GBP)
Organisation The British Academy 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom of Great Britain & Northern Ireland (UK)
Start 03/2010 
End 07/2010
 
Title MemAttProtocol 
Description This is an experimental paradigms based on a computer based task that enables the assessment of the interplay between WM and attention. I have been approached by researches interested in assessing WM and attention in neuropsychiatric conditions and looking at neurodevelopmental changes in WM and attention, to share my paradigm with them. 
Type Of Material Model of mechanisms or symptoms - human 
Year Produced 2009 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact One of the preliminary versions of this paradigm (Soto & Humphreys, 2006, PNAS) enabled me to demonstrate that parietal patients with deficits of visual attention ('visual neglect'), can show enhanced visual awareness, when items that otherwise would be missed, match the contents held in memory 
 
Description Brain Stimulation 
Organisation Aalto University
Department Brain Research Unit and AMI Centre
Country Finland, Republic of 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Conceiving ideas and designing transcranial magnetic stimulation studies of visual cognition
Collaborator Contribution Provide methodological input and experimental design of TMS studies
Impact Silvanto J; Soto D. (2 Jan 2012). Causal evidence for subliminal percept-to-memory interference in early visual cortex. Neuroimage. 59:840-845. DOI. Soto D; Mäntylä T; Silvanto J. (22 Nov 2011). Working memory without consciousness. Curr Biol. 21:R912-R913.
Start Year 2011
 
Description Learning & Consciousness 
Organisation University of Birmingham
Department College of Life and Environmental Sciences
Country United Kingdom of Great Britain & Northern Ireland (UK) 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Devising novel protocols to assess human learning without awareness
Collaborator Contribution Training, access to novel experimental protocolsAccess to patients with visual neglect
Impact publications: Rosenthal, C.R., Kennard, C., & Soto, D. (2010). Visuo-spatial sequence learning without seeing. PLOS One, 5, e11906. Mannan, S., Kennard, C., Potter, D., Pan, Y. & Soto, D. (2010). Early oculomotor capture by new onsets driven by the contents of working memory. Vision Research, 50, 1590-1597
Start Year 2009
 
Description Learning & Consciousness 
Organisation University of Oxford
Department Nuffield Department of Clinical Neuroscience
Country United Kingdom of Great Britain & Northern Ireland (UK) 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Devising novel protocols to assess human learning without awareness
Collaborator Contribution Training, access to novel experimental protocolsAccess to patients with visual neglect
Impact publications: Rosenthal, C.R., Kennard, C., & Soto, D. (2010). Visuo-spatial sequence learning without seeing. PLOS One, 5, e11906. Mannan, S., Kennard, C., Potter, D., Pan, Y. & Soto, D. (2010). Early oculomotor capture by new onsets driven by the contents of working memory. Vision Research, 50, 1590-1597
Start Year 2009
 
Description Memory & Attention 
Organisation Hangzhou Normal University, China
Department Department of Psychology
Country China, People's Republic of 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Conceiving and designing new paradigms to assess working memory-attention interactions
Collaborator Contribution Devising and executiing experimental protocols and data gatheringInput into neurpsychological insvestigations of memory and attention in stroke patientsInput into neurpsychological insvestigations of memory and attention in stroke patients
Impact Pan, Y. & Soto, D. (2010) The modulation of perceptual selection by working memory is dependent on the focus of spatial attention. Vision Research, 50, 1437-44. Pan, Y., Xu, B., & Soto, D. (2009). Dimension-based working memory-driven capture of visual selection. Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 62, 1123-1131. Soto D; Mannan SK; Malhotra P; Rzeskiewicz A; Humphreys GW. (Jun 2011). Distinguishing non-spatial from spatial biases in visual selection: neuropsychological evidence. Acta Psychol (Amst). 137:226-234 Soto D; Funes MJ; Guzman-Garcia A; Warbrick T; Rotshtein P; Humphreys GW. (7 Apr 2009). Pleasant music overcomes the loss of awareness in patients with visual neglect. P NATL ACAD SCI USA. 106:6011-6016.
Start Year 2009
 
Description Memory & Attention 
Organisation Medical Sciences Division
Department Department of Experimental Psychology
Country United Kingdom of Great Britain & Northern Ireland (UK) 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Conceiving and designing new paradigms to assess working memory-attention interactions
Collaborator Contribution Devising and executiing experimental protocols and data gatheringInput into neurpsychological insvestigations of memory and attention in stroke patientsInput into neurpsychological insvestigations of memory and attention in stroke patients
Impact Pan, Y. & Soto, D. (2010) The modulation of perceptual selection by working memory is dependent on the focus of spatial attention. Vision Research, 50, 1437-44. Pan, Y., Xu, B., & Soto, D. (2009). Dimension-based working memory-driven capture of visual selection. Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 62, 1123-1131. Soto D; Mannan SK; Malhotra P; Rzeskiewicz A; Humphreys GW. (Jun 2011). Distinguishing non-spatial from spatial biases in visual selection: neuropsychological evidence. Acta Psychol (Amst). 137:226-234 Soto D; Funes MJ; Guzman-Garcia A; Warbrick T; Rotshtein P; Humphreys GW. (7 Apr 2009). Pleasant music overcomes the loss of awareness in patients with visual neglect. P NATL ACAD SCI USA. 106:6011-6016.
Start Year 2009
 
Description Memory & Attention 
Organisation University of Birmingham
Department College of Life and Environmental Sciences
Country United Kingdom of Great Britain & Northern Ireland (UK) 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Conceiving and designing new paradigms to assess working memory-attention interactions
Collaborator Contribution Devising and executiing experimental protocols and data gatheringInput into neurpsychological insvestigations of memory and attention in stroke patientsInput into neurpsychological insvestigations of memory and attention in stroke patients
Impact Pan, Y. & Soto, D. (2010) The modulation of perceptual selection by working memory is dependent on the focus of spatial attention. Vision Research, 50, 1437-44. Pan, Y., Xu, B., & Soto, D. (2009). Dimension-based working memory-driven capture of visual selection. Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 62, 1123-1131. Soto D; Mannan SK; Malhotra P; Rzeskiewicz A; Humphreys GW. (Jun 2011). Distinguishing non-spatial from spatial biases in visual selection: neuropsychological evidence. Acta Psychol (Amst). 137:226-234 Soto D; Funes MJ; Guzman-Garcia A; Warbrick T; Rotshtein P; Humphreys GW. (7 Apr 2009). Pleasant music overcomes the loss of awareness in patients with visual neglect. P NATL ACAD SCI USA. 106:6011-6016.
Start Year 2009
 
Description Interview with international media 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Primary Audience Media (as a channel to the public)
Results and Impact Interviews appear in different websites; see below a couple of examples

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/health/7959732.stm

http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2009/03/musicheals/



Public awareness
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2009