Scientists, including one of Indian-origin, have developed a new brain training approach that uses sounds to allow ageing brains to ignore distractions.
Distractibility, or the inability to sustain focus on a goal due to attention to irrelevant stimuli, can have a negative effect on basic daily activities, and it is a
hallmark of the ageing mind. A team led by researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, developed a training approach designed to help strengthen individuals' ability to suppress their attention to distracting stimuli.
The investigators used sounds at various frequencies as targets and 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 implicitly 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.
Distractor frequencies were progressively made more similar to the target after trainees made correct discriminations, or they were made more dissimilar after
incorrect discriminations. All the while, the target frequency was kept constant.
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 showed 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," said lead author Dr
Jyoti Mishra. The approach could also be modified to help individuals struggling with a variety of distractions, researchers said.
The study was published in the Cell Press journal Neuron.