A contact lens on the bathroom floor, an escaped hamster in the backyard, a car key in a bed of gravel: How are we able to focus so sharply to find that proverbial needle in a haystack? Scientists at the University of California, Berkeley, have discovered that when we embark on a targeted search, various visual and non-visual regions of the brain mobilize to track down a person, animal or thing.
“Our results show that our brains are much more dynamic than previously thought, rapidly reallocating resources based on behavioral demands, and optimizing our performance by increasing the precision with which we can perform relevant tasks,” said Tolga Cukur, a postdoctoral researcher in neuroscience at UC Berkeley and lead author of the study published April 21 in the journal Nature Neuroscience.
I think the cerebellum is one of the prettiest parts of the brain (for basic anatomy, go here). This is an image of the cerebellum showing purkinje cells in yellow and their outputs (axons that will take the information to the brain) in red. For more information about the cerebellum and purkinje cells, check out my post here. I love this image- all you can see is neurons, but you can see how compact they are on the outer layers of the tissue (just like cortex! They make up the gray matter.) and how the axons travel in the middle parts (just like the rest of the brain! They make up the white matter).
“The fact that I have rehearsed this enough to adapt the way my own mind works is a gratifying thing. I’m proud of it.”
Scientists compared the brain activity of UK champion, Reeps One, with that of a novice, while they both beatboxed.
Reeps One mostly used two brain areas, including the cerebellum - responsible for learning complicated movements.The novice used many more brain areas, suggesting a need to plan each sound and a lack of automatic processing.
The results suggest something different. Both participants, when beatboxing compared with counting, showed increased brain activity in the primary motor cortex.This part of the brain is used to control movements of the body, so would be involved in moving the lips and tongue to make rapid beatbox sounds.
But Reeps One also showed focused and heavy use of his cerebellum, while the novice used several other areas across the brain.
This suggests the novice’s lack of expertise as she needs to think about and plan each sound, while Reeps One can perform automatically from all his years of training. The sound sequences are already embedded in his brain.
Dr McGettigan says: ”We have someone who has learned a motor skill, who has practised it for every day, over many years.”
“What we have at the moment is a demonstration that being an expert doesn’t mean you activate more of your brain. The phrase ‘less is more’ is sort of appropriate here.”