Paying Attention: Why You Want to Have a Filter

Neuroscience

By: Daniel Hass, 2nd year PhD candidate in the Neuroscience Graduate Program

Toyogeki-Movie_Toyooka002

Can you pay attention to the movie, or do you just hear people chomping on popcorn? Image credit: hashi photo (Wikimedia Commons)

At any given moment, we are constantly bombarded by signals from at least four of the five senses.

The visual system is constantly processing our surroundings. The auditory system is stimulated by all of the many miniscule sounds that compose our environment. We’re taking in all the smells around us at any given moment, and we’re constantly feeling the clothes on our skin. Even within one sensory system, there is an enormous amount of data that gets processed.

With this onslaught of input, how do we manage to not go completely insane? The key is that we pay attention to only a small proportion of that information and throw much of it away. This process is known as selective filtering or selective attention, and most people do it all the time.  Image watching a movie at a theater; if you’re quite focused on the film, you’re probably not noticing the sound of squeaking seats, crunchy popcorn, or even the air conditioning whirring through the vents.

Although there are several regions of the brain involved in each sensation, the part of the brain involved in selective filtering is where all of these senses intersect. 

How Does Animal Research Advance Medicine?

Biomedical Sciences

By: Ross Keller, 3rd year PhD candidate in the Biomedical Sciences Graduate Program

Animal,Porkey Pig, Lobund-Wistar

A question was submitted to our blog asking: “How does animal research advance medicine?” It is an important question, and I will do my best to answer it.

The average human life expectancy has increased dramatically over the past 100 years. In 1900, most did not live past 50. Now, most will live to see their 75th birthday. This increase is largely due to advances in medicine that would not have been possible without animal research.

In fact, many scientific organizations as well as the World Health Organization and the United States Department of Health and Human Services estimate that animal research has played a part in almost every major medical advancement over the past century. This fact alone underscores the importance that animal research has played in medicine.

Despite all the benefits of animal research in advancing medicine, many opponents of animal research ask the question, “What gives humans the right to use another creature for our own advancement?” It’s true that this is not a question with an easy answer. Every person has his or her own values and is entitled to his or her own opinion on that question.