How Subcortical Structure Influence Attention?

To understand How Subcortical Structure Influence Attention? We need to understand what is attention and what are Subcortical Structure .

“paying attention” is concentrating—shutting out other activities or information to devote more mental resources to the object on which you want to focus.

History –

William James’s description of Attention,- taking possession by the mind, Focalization, concentration, of consciousness are of its essence.

It implies withdrawal from some things in order to deal effectively with others.

‘Attention is the means, we actively process a limited amount of information from the enormous amount of information available through our senses, our stored memories, and our other cognitive processes’. (De Weerd, 2003a; Rao, 2003).

It includes both conscious (easy to study ) and unconscious (harder to study) processes. (Jacoby, Lindsay, & Toth, 1992; Merikle, 2000).


Definitions of Attention

  • Attention is a concentration of mental activity.
  • Attention allows our cognitive processes to take in selected aspects of our environment. i.e. limiting information.(Palmer, 1999)
  • Attention is the means by which we actively rocesslimited amount of information from the enormous amount of information available through our senses, our stored memories, and our other cognitive processes’.  (De Weerd, 2003a; Rao, 2003).
  • Ross (1951) defined it as “the process of getting an object or thought clearly before the mind”.

Nature of Attention 

The process through which certain stimuli are selected from a group of others is generally referred to as attention. Besides selection, attention also refers to several other properties like alertness, concentration, and search.

  1. Alertness refers to an individual’s readiness to deal with stimuli that appear before her/him. For Example, Alertness at starting point of race.
  2. Concentration refers to focusing of awareness on certain specific objects while excluding others for the moment. For example- Teachers voice rather than other noises.
  3. In Search, an observer looks for some specified subset of objects among a set of objects. For example we search for a friend.

Attention in this sense refers to “effort allocation”. 

Attention has a focus as well as a fringe. Focus or Focal point of attention is when the field of awareness is centered on a particular object or event. On the contrary, Fringe is when the objects or events are away from the center of awareness and one is only vaguely aware of them.

Subcortical Structures 

  1. Thalamus: Acts as a relay station for sensory information (except smell), directing signals to the appropriate areas of the cortex for further processing. It also plays a role in regulating consciousness, sleep, and alertness.
  2. Hypothalamus: Regulates basic biological needs such as hunger, thirst, body temperature, and sleep-wake cycles. It also controls the release of hormones from the pituitary gland, which in turn regulate various bodily functions.
  3. Amygdala: Involved in processing emotions, particularly fear and aggression. It also plays a role in forming emotional memories and is implicated in certain psychiatric disorders such as anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
  4. Basal Ganglia: Consists of several interconnected nuclei and is involved in the control of voluntary motor movements, procedural learning, habit formation, and motivation.
  5. Hippocampus: Plays a crucial role in the formation and consolidation of new memories, particularly declarative memories (memories of facts and events). It also contributes to spatial navigation.
  6. Cerebellum: Located at the back of the brain beneath the cerebral hemispheres, the cerebellum is primarily involved in coordinating voluntary movements, balance, and posture. It also plays a role in motor learning and cognitive functions.

Subcortical Structure Influence Attention

  1. Filtering and Prioritization:
  • Thalamus: As the sensory information hub, the thalamus acts as a filter.
  • It evaluates incoming signals based on various factors like intensity, novelty, and relevance to current goals.
  • It amplifies important information and dampens down irrelevant noise, allowing the cortex to focus on crucial details.
  • Basal Ganglia: These structures help prioritize stimuli by inhibiting responses to distractions.
  • They work with the cortex to identify what’s important and suppress irrelevant information, allowing us to sustain attention on the task at hand.

2. Alertness and Arousal:

  • Thalamus: The thalamus also plays a role in regulating alertness and arousal.
  • By controlling the flow of information and influencing brain chemicals like dopamine, it keeps us engaged and focused.
  • When properly stimulated, the thalamus allows for sustained attention.
  1. Orienting Attention:
  • Superior Colliculus: This structure acts like a spotlight operator.
  • It coordinates eye movements and spatial attention,
  • helping us shift focus to specific locations in our visual field.
  • By directing our gaze, it guides where we allocate our attention.
  1. Integration and Processing:
  • All these subcortical structures work together in a network.
  • They don’t operate in isolation.
  • The thalamus relays filtered information, the superior colliculus directs our gaze, and the basal ganglia suppress distractions.
  • This integrated processing allows for focused attention on relevant stimuli within the broader environment.

Example – You’re studying at a cafe.

  • The thalamus filters out background noise like chatter and clinking cups, but keeps the sound of your friend’s explanation highlighted.
  • The superior colliculus directs your gaze towards your friend’s face.
  • The basal ganglia suppress the urge to check your phone or glance around at other patrons.
  • Through this coordinated effort by subcortical structures, you can maintain focused attention on the conversation despite the surrounding distractions.
  • The cerebral cortex covers the entire surface of the cerebrum, It consists of two hemispheres, the left and right, each containing distinct functional areas.
  • Structure: The cerebral cortex is folded into ridges and grooves called gyri and sulci, respectively, which increase its surface area and allow for more complex neural connections. The cortex can be divided into four lobes.

Cerebral Cortex and Attention

1.Frontal lobe: It is involved in executive attention, which is the ability to control your thoughts and actions. It helps you focus on a task, plan ahead, and resist distractions.

2.Parietal lobe: It involved in spatial attention, which is the ability to focus on a particular location in space. It also helps you to integrate information from different senses.

3.Occipital lobe: The occipital lobe is involved in visual attention, which is the ability to focus on a particular object in your visual field.

4.Temporal lobe: The temporal lobe is involved in auditory attention, which is the ability to focus on a particular sound.

The cerebral cortex exhibits a degree of plasticity, meaning it can reorganize and adapt in response to experience, learning, and injury.

the cerebral cortex is believed to play a crucial role in generating subjective awareness and conscious experience. It integrates sensory information, memories, and cognitive processes to create our perception of the world and ourselves.

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