On a need-to-know basis
I'm Bob Karson with the discovery files--new advances in science and engineering from the National Science Foundation.
(Sound effect: traffic, city) Let's say you're about to cross a busy intersection. Your brain is dealing with work issues, dinner plans, that song you can't get out of your head, walking, visual and auditory stimuli, and a truck coming right at you, (Sound effect: alarm) a truck coming right at you? Yikes! In a split second, you have to know that this is the most vital message. The one you need to react to now. Scientists at Princeton University have found that it could be the pulvinar a mysterious region deep in the brain that sorts through the onslaught of stimuli from the outside world. Like a 'switchboard operator' it regulates communication between clusters of brain cells, synchronizing different parts of the visual cortex so we can act on the information most critical to behavior and survival at the moment. Instead of the oncoming truck getting lost in a jumble of other stimuli, you jump out of the way (Sound effect: truck horn passing).
The discovery about the pulvinar was made using electrodes and brain imaging on macaque monkeys as they played a learned video game involving finding a specific shape on the screen in the midst of distractions. The team believes their findings could lead to new ways to treat conditions like attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and schizophrenia.
The switchboard operator of the brain--(Sound effect: phone, busy signal)--I'm getting a 'busy' signal.
"The discovery files" covers projects funded by the government's national science foundation. Federally sponsored research--brought to you, by you! Learn more at nsf.gov or on our podcast.