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