Ignoring is bliss

LONDON: New scientific research suggests the ability to ignore useless information prevents people from being scatte brained. A study published in Nature shows how filtering out un-needed information can help people increase their capacity to remember what is important.

Scientists at the University of Oregon in the US have demonstrated that awareness — or visual working memory — does not depend on extra storage space in the brain but on an ability to ignore what is irrelevant. This ability leaves more brain space to memorise the relevant information. “Until now, it’s been assumed that people with high-capacity visual working memory had greater storage, but actually it’s about the bouncer — a neural mechanism that controls what information gets into awareness,” said Edward Vogel, who headed the research team. The findings would overturn the accepted concept of memory capacity, which has suggested that how much a person can remember depends on the amount of information crammed into the brain at one time.

Professor Vogel and his team believe the results could lead to better ways of enhancing memory and help improve the diagnosis and treatment of cognitive problems such as attention deficit disorder and schizophrenia. In the study, re searchers asked volunteers to memorise red objects in a series of pictures and ignore everything else in the frame. Brain scans measured their ability to do this as they carried out the memory task. When tested afterwards, it was those who were best able to filter out irrelevant information that were able to remember more of the red objects.