Useful Resources

BrainFacts: A Primer on the Brain and Nervous System (2012) is a concise summary of what we know about the human brain and nervous system provided by BrainFacts.org. “The site is a public information initiative of The Kavli Foundationthe Gatsby Charitable Foundation, and the Society for Neuroscience, all leading global nonprofit organizations working to advance brain research. Leading neuroscientists from around the world form theBrainFacts.org editorial board.”

The National Science Foundation has its own portal dedicated to understanding the brain, developed in response to President Barack Obama’s Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative. Its goal is “to enable scientific understanding of the full complexity of the brain, in action and in context, through targeted, cross-disciplinary investments in research, technology, and workforce development.”

How the Brain Pays Attention: MIT Neuroscience Researchers have identified a circuit in the brain that is used to shift our focus from one object to another. “. . .  the prefrontal cortex — the control center for most cognitive functions — appears to take charge of the brain’s attention and control relevant parts of the visual cortex, which receives sensory input. . . . In the new study, the researchers found that IFJ coordinates with a brain region that processes faces, known as the fusiform face area (FFA), and a region that interprets information about places, known as the parahippocampal place area (PPA). . . . The IFJ has previously been implicated in a cognitive ability known as working memory, which is what allows us to gather and coordinate information while performing a task — such as remembering and dialing a phone number, or doing a math problem.” Or programming computers.

The Distracted Mind: TV show on PBS channel, hosted by Dr. Adam Gazzaley. Dr. Gazzaley “explores the impact that multi-tasking has on our safety, our memory, our education, our careers and our personal lives.  The Distracted Mind delves deeply into attention, distraction, the myth of multi-tasking, and how to use the latest research to possibly improve our skills and abilities at any point during our lives. While the brain can seem almost boundless in its potential, it has limitations, such as processing speed, attentional limitations, working memory limitations, and sensitivity to interference, which can be both internal and external.” Available thru iTunes, Amazon.com, barnesandnoble.com, and others.

Brain Games: TV Series on National Geographic channel. Some real science info about the brain’s functions mixed with a lot of videos and “games” that illustrate how the brain works. The first season had more science and less fluff. The latest season seems to be primarily silly stuff (optical illusions and creative ways to distract and confound the brain) and only 1 or 2 minutes of actual technical information. Features clips and interviews with experts in brain research, such as psychologist Brian Scholl, the director of Yale University’s Perception and Cognition Lab, and Dr. David Strayer, Professor at University of Utah’s school of Cognition and Neural Sciences.

The Magical Number Seven, Plus or Minus Two: Some Limits on Our Capacity for Processing Information” by George Miller, published in Psychological Review in 1956. This paper is a classic study about how the brain works that has probably been referenced more often than any paper since Freud’s time. This paper argues that the number of objects an average human can hold in working memory is 7 +/- 2.

Focus of Memory: Research by Cowan in 2001 timeframe has put the limit of the “focus of memory” (working memory) at 4 “chunks” instead of 7 +/- 2 objects.

Narrow Focus of Memory: Oberauer in 2002 refined Cowan’s model by saying we have a more narrow focus of attention, a one-element focus that is embedded in the four-element focus that can be selected for processing, which sounds suspiciously like single-threaded consciousness.